Babies are pretty adorable I must say and that includes my own so when she does something really cute, funny or uber- smart, I acknowledge it and maybe a bit too much. I’d never thought that my response to my child and all her awesomeness was perhaps a way in which I was unintentionally “stealing her thunder” and when I heard this it really got me thinking. She didn’t roll over for me, it was for her own satisfaction because damn it, that’s what she felt like doing and my reaction was merely to placate myself. It’s along the same lines that a constant and steady flow of “good jobs” and praise can actually do more damage than good. The idea behind it is this, by saying “good job” or praising children in this manner what we are actually doing is giving our judgment to their activity. We are telling them through our own experience how they should view it, not only that but we are limiting their intrinsic experience of the event. Some experts even say these types of interactions demotivate children in arenas in which they receive constant praise and from my experience as a high school educator for eleven years I would say I strongly agree. Praise for mediocrity can be crippling and squashes our children’s’ ability to be creative and to enjoy learning. This unnecessary praise also creates a lack of drive. I feel strongly that easing up on the good jobs and just delighting in the process of learning will empower our children beyond measure.
My eight month old daughter and I are in a Montessori infant class and it’s a great experience. It allows me to really stop and observe my daughter in a different light and I am getting to learn more about infant development which is something I’ve been curious about since my son was an infant. Several weeks ago as one of the babies did something, the parent responded with praise. At that moment, kindly the instructor (who also happens to be my daughters’ grandmother) said “don’t steal her thunder”. I had never thought of it this way and after the initial shock wore off I realized how much sense it made to me. Montessori really invites you into the childs world through observation and this was very new to me. I am by no means a Montessori expert. The idea of just being there with her, giving her my eyes if she looks for them but otherwise just relax and watch, no play by play, no praise, no passing judgment. Just being with my child is actually enough, wow! That’s pretty potent and empowering to think about. Children are constantly exploring their world through their senses and we as their care givers can just be there while they experience this. By saying “good job” or praising our children for just about everything under the sun we are setting up their brains to look for the approval and praise. They learn that if they do this mommy will like it and if they don’t mommy won’t. Children are always looking for our approval. This is quite natural but as the adults we need to be mindful that they could start relying on our ( or society’s) evaluation of their actions opposed to assessing the experience themselves. Good or bad, nice or mean, pretty or ugly; our entire society loves to spend copious amounts of time judging just about everything. Why not take the attitude it is what it is or even better it is what you say it is and it is what I say it is. Building and fostering tolerance and acceptance is something our world can use a whole lot more of. Parents also feel the need to share their opinions about experiences our children are moving through. Opinions aren’t bad and as adults we’ve become very opinionated. Some and most of our opinions come from our direct experiences or those of others but either way wouldn’t it be refreshing to go back and be able to clear our minds of all those opinions that don’t build our character up but drag us down. From a childs perspective these opinions carry a lot of weight. I would argue that really opinionated adults raise really opinionated children or they raise children who struggle to make decisions and/or feel the need to be a model of sheer perfection. Something that is completely unrealistic or unobtainable. The expert or their model (parents perhaps) states the experience in an opinionated manner that may make formulating his own opinion a challenge and would surely make a child feel quite intimidated in making the wrong choice.
By telling our children “good job” on a regular basis they lose the intrinsic feeling that comes with success. Children should be allowed to feel that they accomplished something really amazing but it’s their decision to feel that way. I want my son and daughter to feel joy and pride in their work on the daily without looking to me to see if it passed the test. One of the problems I noticed while working with adolescents was how often they gave up. In most cases, it would be the smallest frustration that would set them off and then they would completely shut down. I feel that one part of this equation of the praise overload that makes individuals feel dis-empowered is the lack of value on the process of how to complete a puzzle or the process of learning to ride a bike opposed to the outcome. Yes, we all want for our children to succeed and acquire new skills but by de-emphasizing the steps it takes to get to the finished product we disregard the beauty in the process, the lessons that unfold within the process.
I’ve included below some helpful ways that I’ve moved away from constant praise. I noticed in myself that once I started REALLY bringing my attention to my play by play of my sons learning and behaviors that subtle shifts arose in these moments and ll of the interactions with my son changed. The space and our energies seemed more calm and grounded. He also appeared and continues to appear more confident and open in his speech and actions with me.
- Just Observe. Just be with your child without distractions. Even if it’s a phoneless twenty minutes, it will make all the difference for both of you.
- Say what you see or feel. “I see that you enjoy reading that book about bears.” or “ I see you figured out that new puzzle.”
- Do praise children for hard work or effort. Do recognize the process of learning that can and does take place all of the time even in the ordinary moments of daily life.
- Give children responsibility and ownership of their work by making them feel grown up, organized, helpful, responsible or an awesome listener or navigator. Saying so to our children builds confidence. I see this A LOT recently with my own son. Sometimes just using a describing word can be really impactful.
- Encourage your child to find tools to manage their frustration. We use deep breathing, sighs and laughter often. Teaching your children to problem solve instead of solving problems for them when they seem that they are visibly frustrated will be an asset for life. Remind them that challenges are not failure, they are an essential part of success. Normalize your child’s frustration and offer reassurance.
- Be real for your child. Let them see you working hard at things, failing at things and then overcoming those challenges. You are their biggest role model and can teach them the most through your reactions to things. Actions speak louder than words is a reality even though the phrase has become quite cliche.
- Build them up. Remind your child often how blessed you feel that you have moments together and how much they inspire you. These statements can really impact our little ones.
These are some of the ways I’m moving away from the “good job” and I’m noticing huge shifts in my son. This isn’t to say I don’t have moments where I throw my judgment into the mix or praise my child for doing mediocre work but I will say I’m a lot more aware of it and it’s happening less and less. So instead of stealing my children’s’ thunder these days I am letting them predict the weather.