The reaction from the forum parent was - poor kid. How sorry she felt for that child who was not valued.
I was like, give me a break! You feel sorry for the child that is being repeatedly beaten, the child who is neglected... not the child who is being praised. This superior and extremist parenting attitude drives me up the wall.
Anyway, my point is that although we discover that certain approaches in parenting are more helpful than others, this doesn't mean that we are 'bad' parents or are irreparably damaging our children.
So here's my take on the praise issue.
Praise is lovely. It's one of many social tools we use to form connections with others. If we absolutely 100% didn't care about what others thought, we would go to work in our comfy pajamas and fart in restaurants.
So why is anyone questioning the act of praising?
Here's the thing, praising a child - just like anything we do to, around, and for, children - will affect that child's perception of the world and of themselves, during the time when they are forming those perceptions. That's what makes it different to praising adults.
Well, you see, praise is connected to value. What we value. And during the formative years - the years we don't separate who we are with what we do - it can become very easily linked to self-value.
In other words, we learn that there is such as thing as 'good'. Then, we learn that what we do is 'good', meaning that we are 'good'.
And all this takes place externally (others teach us what is 'good', what is valued), and is then internalised. So we learn to look to others for how we should behave and what we should achieve, and how we should achieve it.
A neighbour and her daughter (a few weeks difference in age from mine) visited us last week and she was taking up pictures of animals and asking the girls to name them. The mother speaks both English and Serbian. Around here, the equivalent of 'good job' (USA) and 'well done' (UK), is bravo! .
Whenever she exclaimed bravo to her daughter, the girl's eyes lit up. She pleased her mother, and so she felt good about herself. Whenever she said it to my girl, The Wildflower looked at her bemused - she doesn't know that word bravo, nor is she used to such animated responses because she names an animal.
That mother was saying all this out of love and kindness. I know that. She's a lovely woman and a loving mother. She isn't marking her child for therapy.
However, every time that little girl achieved something, she wanted her mother's praise. The Wildflower, reads, names things, draws, stacks blocks, fits puzzle pieces, and so on, without ever looking for praise. In fact, she occassionaly applauds herself.
Every child is different, so every child will be affected differently by praise. I was a praised child. Praised for being well-behaved and praised for achievements, especially academic ones.
It took a ton of inner work to shed the mask of approval-seeking. I can taste the anxiety of rejection in my mouth, like it was yesterday. When someone didn't like me, I was wrought with questioning. Why? WHY? (which on the flip-side is also very self-absorbed - as if other people's choices always have something to do with us).
When I wrote my piece on when I see a mother, I lost over 20 subscribers. You know what I did? I laughed. I found it hilarious. They might have left because they got sick of me droning on about such things or because they misinterpreted my point (which happened with one reader). But it didn't matter, I laughed because my self-worth is no longer dependant on other people's approval.
As I said, every child is different. And every parent, and every parenting. So the final outcome will vary enormously. However, there is one basic outcome that occurs for everyone. When we look for validation of what we do (who we are), we learn to distrust our authentic Self.
A child who is a natural people-pleaser, will choose to do mostly what pleases others. A child who is less so, and who is fiercely independent, might learn to be extremely self-critical (because only a 'good' result matters). Another child, one who is naturally full of pride, will grow apathetic towards anything that isn't appreciated by an audience - helping mama around the house got praise, now I need bribes to clean up my room.
Sometimes the need for praise is so strong, that the getting of that praise is the ultimate and only goal. Like a child who works hard to get the gold star at school, but forgets her work as soon as the star is given. There is no joy in the work, little value in the finished piece - but the star is taken home to gain further praise.
And that leads me to a couple of other aspects.
The process is often overlooked. We, as a society, place so much value in the done, and so little value on the doing.
When the Wildflower was drawing yesterday, I said, 'you're having fun there!' That's what I found wonderful, that she was drawing. Not anything she might complete. And not that it was 'good'. And not that what she was doing was 'good'. But rather, I supported the process, and supported what appeared to be her joy in it.
And at other times, on occassion, the words, 'good stuff!' have escaped my lips. And I shrug and cut myself some slack. It came from love.
This doesn't mean that results aren't important. Of course they are. It's not much good enjoying the process of learning to drive and not caring if you don't pass the test. Life is a balance of required results and just doing, and often, a mixture of both.
The final aspect, is the value of mistakes. When we are focused on outcome and on 'good' work, we are dismissing the learning potential, and the fun, of doing something 'badly'.
Our eyes light up when they say/do something correctly, or when it's completed. How often do they light up during the process? And when they get something 'wrong', how often do we clap our hands and exclaim with a grin, "cool, a chance to experiment!"?
Oh, ok, just remembered, one more point. Criticism.
When we link good work with self-worth, any criticism is taken personally. Of course it would be! We've learnt from our childhood that what we do is one and the same as who we are.
So if someone says, 'hey Mon, the sidebar of your new blog design is all messed up',
My inner ear hears this...
'Hey Mon, the sidebar of your new blog design is all messed up'
Someone who believes their childhood lessons will hear this,
'You're a crap blog designer. You're crap'.
When we do begin to give praise (because it's not about no praise), we don't link the work with the the child. We might think that telling a child that they are a good drawer (an intrinsic value of themselves) is a lovely and supportive thing to say. What happens when they do an incorrect drawing? What happens when their drawing is criticised at school, at college? Or when they don't win any prize? Saying, that's a great drawing is subtle but different. Possibly more supportive, 'you really tried hard with that one', or, 'you really enjoyed that'.
You know, I think that not praising is really, really tough. Not just out of habit, but because so many of us have been brought up to connect love with praise, and oh how much we want to love our children. And so many of us were brought up in oppressive or authoritarian or unplayful households, that we just want to tell our kids how amazing they are.
But I can tell you one thing. I can tell you when I'm most happy. I'm most happy, most at peace, when the choices that other people make or what they say, do not affect how I feel about myself. And that has come about by detaching myself from external praise and criticism, and trusting my inner Self.
I just want to give that gift to my child.