Posted by: Sara Carbone on: January 22, 2012
Authors of the book How To Talk So Kids Can Learn, Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish identify some forms of praise as troublesome. They suggest that when you repeatedly give praise that evaluates the worth or merit of your child or something she’s done, she learns to look outside herself for approval, for a sense of who she is. Instead, the goal is to help children learn “to trust their own judgement…to make corrections or adjustments based upon their own evaluation.” Also, they say that children can sometimes be uncomfortable with praise that evaluates them. They might qualify it or push it away because it can feel like something that they have to live up to all the time.
Better, Faber and Mazlish suggest, is descriptive praise that describes what the child has done. Then the child is left to draw her own conclusions about herself.
Another option is to describe how you feel: “I felt so pleased to hear that you helped out a student who was struggling.” or “This drawing of the sky is so colorful, I feel like I’m sitting right under these stars.” or “Your report on fireflies was so full of interesting information that it taught me things I didn’t know.”
I have found that praise that is descriptive goes over well with my students. Also, saying things that evaluate their intelligence or worthiness subtly changes the power dynamic between us (I am evaluator on high, they are the recipients of my assessment). I prefer to keep our playing field more level. So I try to stick with praise that describes. That way they are free to come up with their own conclusions about their ability and worth.
This is not an easy thing to do – most of us aren’t practiced at describing what we see when we praise. And I’m not suggesting you muzzle yourself and your natural enthusiasm. But do give it a try sometimes.
For additional information on evaluative praise and its alternatives try the article Five Reasons To Stop Saying “Good Job!” by well-known author and lecturer Alfie Kohn.