Monday, July 13, 2009

Praise Junkies

I've got to admit, this is one of my biggest pet peeves and I see and hear it everywhere. Excessive praise. It's in every park, grocery store and mall around this country. I'm sure it happens all over the globe, but supposedly the old US of A tops the cake with this behavior. You've heard it before..."Great work, Billy! You're really swinging high now! Good job pumping your legs! You're the best swinger in the entire world!!!!" And on and on it goes.

Anyone who knows me, knows that this irritates me to no end and because of it, I probably do not praise my children ENOUGH! Why doesn't parenting come with a handbook? This book by Chick Moorman is probably the closest you'll find to a parenting handbook. I've read it several times and I try to use my "parent talk" to the best of my ability each day. Some days are better than others.

Amazingly, Dr. Deak---author of Girls will be Girls---mentions this little pet peeve of mine in her book, stating:

The point is that if every little behavior or action of a child
is praised or reinforced, it not only loses its impact, but it gradually leads a
child to believe that anything she does is great or that everything she does is
equally good, from scribbling on a piece of paper to writing War and
Excessive praise can lead to the development of:
  • A very selfish child who wants reinforcement from everyone for
  • A very needy child who can't function well without constant
    adult feedback
  • A very complacent child because everything is responded to in
    the same way
  • A very angry child because she/he will inevitably interact with
    people who are not effusive about her/his every behavior or will set the bar
    higher for obtaining praise
  • A very confused child because her/his outside world is not the
    same as her/his home world
  • A very lazy child because the littlest effort is
How does this relate to Montessori, you ask? In the classroom, Montessori teachers use something called objective praise. We know that reinforcement and praise are very important tools to help shape behavior with better side effects than punishment. However, we do not want to get sucked into the abyss of meaningless praise that creates children who I like to call "praise junkies". Every few minutes I hear "Look at me! See what I'm doing! Look, I pushed in my chair! See!! See!?!?!" I call them "praise junkies" because they quite literally need their contant fix of praise in order to feel self-worth. Objective praise is reinforcing a child using obvious statements of fact. "Billy, I see you used a lot of red in your picture." For a child who has trouble focusing..."Sally, you spent a half an hour working on those Metal Insets." Using objective praise is like an art form, but trust takes time to master. When in doubt, give a genuine smile.

So next time you go to the park, try not to bite your tongue off when you here the mommy next to you screaming praises at her child for playing in the sandbox or for sitting on a bench!

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