Encouragement Vs. Praise

 In Montessori News in Guelph, Tips for Parents

Encouragment vs praise with children

  • When your child shows you something she has done, try to avoid using any words that you could say without even looking at her work, such as: “that’s beautiful,” “what a great job,” “you are an amazing artist.” Instead, look at what she has done and describe what you see and how it makes you feel, e.g., “you have used a lot of green, that makes me think of grass in Spring.”
  • With inconsiderate praise, you have to keep upping the ante. If you lavishly praise your child for something poorly done, how do you praise a masterpiece?
  • Children can come to perceive excessive praise as a disguised criticism because behind every praise is an expectation for the behaviour to be repeated. Sometimes, what they have produced is a fluke but now they feel pressured into producing another masterpiece when they know they probably can’t
  • Praise is full of value judgements and can be condescending and patronizing. “You are such a sweet little girl” – “but, what if I get really mad and feel like throwing something – I won’t be sweet and people won’t like me.”
  • If you are a praise-giver, it’s very easy to praise a child who is well-behaved, articulate, socially poised, has self-control, good coordination, fine motor skills and is physically attractive. It’s easy to love a lovable child. But what about the child who gets easily frustrated, has limited vocabulary, introverted, impatient, has undeveloped coordination – what do you say to her? Where does her praise come from? She’s certainly hearing the other children being praised and feeling inferior to and resentful of them
  • Creates a dependence on the opinions of others – some children (as well as some adults) are unable to move forward until they receive someone else’s approval
  • Once a dependence is created through continuous lavish praise, children will come to believe that they are ‘geniuses’, ‘artists’, ‘world class athletes’, ‘better than all the rest’, until they get into the real world and reality bites – this is a bitter pill for them to swallow
  • Children can develop a belief that their personal value is dependent on their ability to please others
  • They stop thinking for themselves and wait for others to tell them what to do and how to think and feel
  • A steady diet of praise can lead a child to believe; “I’m only okay if they tell me I’m okay”
  • Praise is often targeted at the product rather than the process
  • Many child care facilities encourage children to produce ‘artwork’ to take home to show their parents sometimes as a means of justifying the parents investment in the facility – ‘see, we haven’t just been babysitting your child, we get them working and here’s proof.’
  • The little guy goes running out dragging his sodden piece of paper, hand it to his mum, waits for the expected shot of approval, then promptly forgets all about it and goes rushing off to play with his friends. Meanwhile the mother is left standing with glue and paint dripping all over her shoes, wondering how she’s going to keep the mess off the car upholstery and how soon she can tactfully dump it
  • Excessive praise creates ‘people pleasers’ and ‘approval junkies’. Rather than doing things for the pleasure they derive from the actual doing (which is very strong in children), they will do things in order to get something – praise or a reward. Again, the product becomes more important than the process. If a child doesn’t excel in what the parents consider important – which is usually reading & writing – and the praise becomes a bit more sparse and even less genuine, they can feel devastated

ENCOURAGEMENT – this promotes self acceptance and encourages self evaluation

  • ‘that’s a tough one, but I know you’ll work it out’, ‘you did it’, ‘what do you think of this?’, ‘have you noticed how much you have accomplished?’
  • We remind him of how far he has come: “remember when you started here you couldn’t tie your laces and now everyone comes to you to get their laces tied?”
  • How we celebrate a child’s newly-acquired skill is by giving him more responsibility – such as becoming one of the official lace-tiers of the class
  • We never offer rewards. Rewards only serve to focus the child’s attention on the product (and how quickly he can get there) and robs him of the opportunity to enjoy the process, to explore, to satisfy his curiosity, make discoveries and to gain real insight and understanding
  • We encourage children to think, feel and do things for themselves, this way they become self-motivated, choosing to do things because they enjoy them. They tend to make more of an effort, feel confident going beyond their comfort zone and see mistakes as an opportunity to learn even more
  • We show the children how to think and not what to think
  • Our encouragement is unconditional. Our feelings for the children are not attached to what they do or how they act. Every child is made to feel loved, respected and listened to. Each child is separate from his or her behaviour
  • Children are allowed to choose their own work after they have been shown it and, especially in the beginning, this gives them an immediate opportunity to shine and feel good about themselves. Children will usually choose to do work which they enjoy and are good at: ‘I notice you seem to really enjoy working with colours, numbers, books…”
  • Encouragement focuses on the process and acknowledges the child’s struggle in mastering something. It gives them permission to be imperfect – it recognizes their perseverance, creativity and ability to solve problems
  • It is especially valuable to children who are struggling and finding many things challenging. It promotes faith in their own ability and gives them the impetus to keep trying
  • We never compare children. We encourage them to feel proud of their individual strengths and progress – no matter what they may be
  • We don’t encourage competition. Some children are inherently competitive and we don’t discourage that but we don’t ever pit the children against each other in order to find a ‘winner’
  • They are shown that being a winner doesn’t mean having to beat or be better than everyone else
  • We focus attention on the good of everyone – voluntary (not forced) cooperation rather than competition
  • Children are made to feel that they are fine just the way they are
  • Encouragement is given to those who find it easy and those who find it difficult.

What qualities and characteristics do you want your child to exhibit as adults? Do you want them to:

  • Be able to think for themselves?
  • Be able to solve problems?
  • Be comfortable in various social settings?
  • Deal with disappointments?
  • Learn from mistakes?
  • Feel capable and confident?

Do you want them to succeed in school or succeed in life?

What’s more important: the number of A’s she has or the number of friends she has?

Do you want your child to be a team player or a team leader?

“It is necessary that the human personality should be prepared for the unforeseen, not only for the conditions that can be anticipated by prudence and foresight. Nor should it be strictly conditioned by one rigid specialization, but should develop at the same time the power of adapting itself quickly and easily. In this fierce battle of civil life a man must have a strong character and quick wits as well as courage; he must be strengthened in his principles by moral training and he must also have practical ability in order to face the difficulties of life. Adaptability – this is the most essential quality, for the progress of the world is continually opening new careers, and at the same time closing or revolutionizing the traditional types of employment.”

Dr. Maria Montessori 1948

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