Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Praising kids should have a point.

I have to tell you the truth.            
Sitting down to write a post about praising kids is making my skin crawl.

I'm worried about what you, the reader and parent, must be thinking.  I'm imagining that you've already stopped reading and have left the page thinking of me as "one of those people" --the kind of person who thinks we should let kids believe that the sun rises and sets on their behinds.

Good.  You're still reading. Please hear me out and stick with me on this.  I am NOT one of those people!  I promise!

I just happen to think that if I am going to stand behind the idea that kids should be called out on their poor behavior and be held accountable to rules and expectations with consistency, that they also deserve to hear praise and recognition when they get it right.

There.  Now that wasn't so bad or painful to hear, was it?  Turns out, it was pretty easy for me to say, too.

Think about it for a second.  How many times in a day do you think kids are given directions?  How many times a day do you think the average kid might get redirected or asked to do something differently?

What if those times were the only times a kid's behavior was paid attention to?  Care to guess what might happen?

You've got it.

You'd have one heck of a pain in the neck kid on your hands.  If kids can't get your attention positively, they will try to get it negatively.

Teaching kids how to get positive attention starts with praising them and catching them being good.

No, that doesn't mean they should hear a parade of "good jobs" or "nice work" all day long. Statements like that just blow smoke up their said behinds.  You check it off your list but there is no meaning to it.  You aren't mindfully noticing the kid.  Soon, your child will think that you aren't really paying attention or that you are just parroting what "parents are supposed to say".

Want to make praising your kids count for something?  Interested in using good behavior as a teachable moment instead of their bad behavior?

Make the praise statement specific, measurable, and observable.  Simply saying "Good job" doesn't work because it isn't specific enough.  It doesn't teach the child which behavior or skill you'd like to see again. Instead, try "You did such a good job cleaning your room today.  I didn't see any clothes on the floor and was happy not to find any hidden messes in your closets."

Praising kids with specificity shows them that you're really paying attention and that you see them. Here, the child will know that a clean room means all clothes are put away and nothing is shoved out of view.

Next, be sure to tell kids WHY their behavior is good or pleases you. I know what you doubters are thinking.  "Duh! Of course kids know it's good to clean their rooms and listen to their parents".  I disagree.  Yes.  Kids should clean their rooms and yes, they should follow their parents directions but do you really want your kids to listen simply "because (you) said so"?

I don't.      

The idea here is that we give directions and expectations to kids so they learn things.  We are preparing them for the real world.  We want them to learn to clean their rooms so they:

  • Learn to respect their space and their belongings
  • Learn the tasks involved in organizing
  • Learn to respect the space and belongings of others
  • Can feel organized.  Kids perform better in clean, organized environments.  Chaotic and messy environments can lead to chaotic and messy behavior.
When we tell kids to clean their rooms, they think we're doing it for us...because we want our houses clean, because their messes make us crazy.  Yes, both points may be indeed be true but that isn't why we want them to clean their rooms so we have to tell them so.

Next time, try saying "I love that you cleaned your room so well.  Everything is put away.  You're going to get your homework done faster with your desk so neat.  You'll be playing that video game in no time."

It is A LOT.
It annoys me sometimes and I am as verbose as they get.
Just deal with it.  Teaching takes time, patience, and sometimes, lots of words.

Providing kids with the reason why their behavior is good increases the likelihood that they will repeat the behavior.  Developmentally, kids learn empathy in stages.  However, they learn the idea of "what's in it for them" rather quickly.  Teaching kids why being good, working hard, or showing effort helps them out is key to helping kids learn to be internally motivated.

When we praise kids regularly and with specificity, for things they actually showed effort with or took a risk for, they learn to become internally motivated.  They start to make good choices for themselves because they want to benefit themselves.  They start to internalize good decision making. 

Without specificity, without teaching why a kid's choice is a good one, the kid only learns to please adults or to avoid trouble and the actual skill being taught is wholly missed.

I've thrown a lot at you here and I hope I have challenged your thinking at least a little bit.  I know this stuff isn't easy and that is why I am here to help.  If you're struggling with the balance between praising and limit setting, I can help you tow the line.  If you're stuck in analysis paralysis, you can work with me to get untangled.  Kids are tricky. Teaching them is trickier.

Find me at Fresh Start Parenting and let me help.  We can begin today. Starting the new year off feeling more in control of your kids and of your parenting vision sounds really good to me.  How about you?

Until next time,

1 comment:

  1. Great post Heather. I love that you talk about praising for specificity. I think this is a little like being attentive, as was discussed in a few posts on my blog recently when reviewing Stephen Grosz's book "The Examined Life". I would have loved to include you in our discussions - Anne Goodwin and Caroline Lodge.