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Praising Kids: Art or Science?

05I saw a segment on the Today Show yesterday about the dangers of over-praisng kids. Or rather, I saw a third of the segment because of interruptions from the kids I was trying to learn how to praise properly in the hopes that if I do just the right kind of praising they will learn to let me watch 3 minutes of television without interrupting me. But that’s another issue altogether. The real point is there’s a lot of science devoted to how to praise kids properly and frankly? It makes my head spin.

If you Google “praising kids” you get a bazillion articles tell you all sorts of different ways praise will enhance or undermine the experience of being a child. Psychology Today tells us to focus on praising effort, not personal attributes in order to make kids want to try harder. Another Psychology Today article tells us that saying “good job!” is worthless and harmful because it’s too non-specific. A post on Wired confirms that studies say that personal praise can ultimately undermine a child’s self-esteem. A teacher friend told me the latest training she received suggests praising kids but not imposing your own emotional reaction to what you’re praising – in other words, don’t say you like their painting, instead comment on all the imagination they used creating it.

::headdesk::

I am now 100% certain that I’m praising my son wrong (my daughter is just a baby so I’m not messing her up with incorrect praise yet). I say “good job” all the time and tell him that I like his Lego creations, and I’m effusive in my thanks when he completes assigned tasks like putting away laundry. I sometimes remember to focus on the work that goes into a project instead of on the outcome but not always. And seldom does a day go by that I don’t utter the words “You’re awesome, buddy!”

And you know what? I do think he’s awesome. And I do like the Lego spaceship he made. And I am grateful to him for putting his clothes away when I ask. It might be the wrong kind of praise but it’s all an honest reaction to him and his activities. I’m being genuine with him and I like to think that counts for something.

I know there is a ton of science about kids and how they develop and I’m as likely as anyone to read these studies and reports. But after I read them I’m filled with anxiety that I’m doing it wrong. I become hyper-aware of my behavior and it takes me out of the moment and into an academic headspace where I regard interactions with my son as experiments, not, ya know, conversations. I think that I’m at my best when I’m being myself, responding to my kid being himself. And if that means he hears praise that isn’t perfectly calibrated to turn him into a wonder-kid? Well, I’m ok with that. I like the kid he is. As I often tell him, he’s awesome.

Photo credit: photo stock

Read more from Rebekah at Mom-in-a-Million The Broad Side. Follow Rebekah on Facebook and Twitter too!

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