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The Perils of Praise

Norah is driving me crazy.  There.  I said it.  A recent phenomenon, 5 bazillion times a day, she says, “watch this, mommy.”  I was changing Cedar’s diaper last night and she wanted me to “look at this” 7 times!  And it was only to show me the many different ways she could carry a stuffed frog.

Exasperation.  My child is becoming a praise junkie.

Then, inspiration.  I created this issue.  I’ve been trying to over-compensate (since I’m pretty involved with Cedar’s care just now) by over-praising her.  And it is easier to praise her than to become involved in what she is doing by asking open-ended questions.  Really, I’ve been patting her on the head and tossing her a scooby snack. 

I used to be careful about praise.  I tried to avoid “good job” which isn’t a description anyway; it is a judgement according to Alfie Kohn.  If Norah drew a picture of an apple, instead of saying “oh that is amazing,” I would try to remember to ask a thoughtful question like “is it a red apple or a green apple?”  There is plenty of research that shows the more a student is praised, the more tentative and less creative he or she becomes. 

Don’t get me wrong–I think Norah is quite an impressive child.  And I feel that praise has a place for sure.  But I want to be careful of three things:

1) Creating a condition.  I don’t want her to feel she must perform to get my love and attention. 

2) Using praise as a bribe.  “I like the way you put away your toys before dinner.”  Kids are smart and will eventually catch on to that carrot anyway.

3) Praising too much and/or for trivial things.  Lately I sound like a cheerleader:  “Awesome, you brushed your teeth.  High five!  You’re so cool.”

And the result of this last one?  “Mom, watch this!” 

I know, I know.  There are worse things I could do.  And I know it is age-appropriate for her to be a bit of a showboat.  However, I also know I’ve become her supplier. 

So my goal this week is to go easy on the positive reinforcement.  I’ll leave that for the grandparents.  And it probably wouldn’t hurt to do my yearly read of Unconditional Parenting.


“We make fun of what used to be called ‘yes-men’ at the office, those deferential employees who never disagree with the boss, so what makes us think that ‘yes-children’ would be ideal?”  —Alfie Kohn Unconditional Parenting

It is my annual re-reading of my parenting manifesto.  I’ve been thinking about my long-term goals for Norah.  What characteristics are most important to shape?  And are my day-to-day actions mirroring these long-term goals?  Or am I simply trying to get by and create a child most convenient for the moment? 

My long-term goal is not obedience.  Nope.  Not at all.  I want an independent thinker.  One day, she’s going to be a teenager (excuse me while I scream!) and she’ll have all sorts of authoritative voices around her.  I certainly don’t want her obeying her creepy karate instructor when he asks her to stay after class and I definitely don’t want her obeying her peers when they ask her to try some new chemical candy.  I don’t want her to absorb everything her college professors tell her.  I want to teach my child to discern, to question, to weigh, and to decide for herself.  Ultimately, I pray she makes good decisions but it is important to me that she understands why she is making them.  And that is something I cannot force. 

So what does that look like in the day-to-day raising of an almost three year old?  Wooo.  Tricky.  And frustrating.  And time-consuming.  And hard.  And rewarding. 

And the icing on the cake–most of the research (both recent and dating all the way back to the 1950’s) shows me that the happy side-effect of this type of parenting is obedience.  By not punishing, rewarding, or controlling, I get a child who both thinks for herself and is more likely to obey me.  Score!

The Really Good, Really Big, Really Cheap Book Sale

I went to the GLA annual book sale yesterday.  Even dragging my tired tot along, I found some great books! 

For the gentle parenting lending library, I picked up Positive Discipline, Positive Discipline A-Z, and Punished by Rewards.  I squealed triumphantly when I found the Alfie Kohn book.  I startled the pregnant mom beside me.

For the UCEDS library, I grabbed The Premature Baby Book, A Child is Born, Mamatoto:  A Celebration of Birth, and The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding

For my husband, I snagged A Naturalist’s Guide to the Southern Blue Ridge Front, South Pole 900 Miles on Foot, Alaska Wilderness:  Exploring the Central Brooks Range, and Still Waters, White Waters.  He asked me if I was intentially trying to drive him away.

For CareyFootprints by Denise Levertov.  I finally found a bosom friend, kindred spirit who quotes poetry to me by email; not nearly as romantic as hand-written perfumed letters but who keeps stamps these days?     

For Norah:  only a tiny goblin book she sneaked into our bag.  I’m a children’s book snob and the pickings were slim. 

For me, I didn’t have much time.  I mentioned the tired tot, right?  I tangled with a football-playeresque guy over The Unicorn & Other Poems.  Go figure.  And, walking to the check-out, I reached back and grabbed Midwives

Final bill:  25.00  Not bad.  Until they announced that the “fill-a-bag-for-10.00” sale was starting in 15 minutes as I’m handed my receipt.


I introduced Norah to puddle-jumping today.  She had so much fun and kept asking, “Mama, dat pell?”  (that smell?) as she sniffed the puddles.  She was soaked, cold, and happy when I carried her in for a warm bath.  One day, we’ll puddle-jump Pinnacle-style.


This morning, she “read” my Alfie Kohn book Unconditional Parenting for about 20 minutes.  She pretended to turn the pages and read aloud a complicated story about Scott going to work.  When she finished, she brought the book to me and declared, “Mommy, good story.”  Smart child.  It is a great little book. 

Meanwhile, this hot guy just called me and asked me out on a date tonight.  So, I better change out of my “mom” clothes (prana yoga pants/chacos) and get into my “outdoor girl” clothes (prana climbing pants/chacos) to impress this sexy man.  My wardrobe is pretty simple…