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Being a parent gives you a fantastic opportunity - to evolve. You may completeley change the way you think about being a good parent after reading this article, I know I did! - Ed.
Hang out at a playground, visit a school, or show up at a child's birthday
party, and there's one phrase you can count on hearing repeatedly: "Good
job!" Even tiny infants are praised for smacking their hands together
("Good clapping!"). Many of us blurt out these judgments of our
children to the point that it has become almost a verbal tic.
Plenty of books and articles advise us against
relying on punishment, from spanking to forcible isolation ("time
out"). Occasionally someone will even ask us to rethink the practice of
bribing children with stickers or food. But you’ll have to look awfully hard to
find a discouraging word about what is euphemistically called positive
Lest there be any misunderstanding, the point here is not to call into question
the importance of supporting and encouraging children, the need to love them
and hug them and help them feel good about themselves. Praise, however, is a
different story entirely. Here's why.
1. Manipulating children. Suppose you offer a verbal reward to reinforce the
behavior of a two-year-old who eats without spilling, or a five-year-old who
cleans up her art supplies. Who benefits from this? Is it possible that telling
kids they’ve done a good job may have less to do with their emotional needs
than with our convenience?
Rheta DeVries, a professor of education at the University of Northern Iowa,
refers to this as "sugar-coated control." Very much like tangible
rewards – or, for that matter, punishments – it’s a way of doing something to
children to get them to comply with our wishes. It may be effective at
producing this result (at least for a while), but it’s very different from
working with kids – for example, by engaging them in conversation about what
makes a classroom (or family) function smoothly, or how other people are
affected by what we have done -- or failed to do. The latter approach is not
only more respectful but more likely to help kids become thoughtful people.
The reason praise can work in the short run is that young children are hungry
for our approval. But we have a responsibility not to exploit that dependence
for our own convenience. A "Good job!" to reinforce something that
makes our lives a little easier can be an example of taking advantage of
children’s dependence. Kids may also come to feel manipulated by this, even if
they can’t quite explain why.