The case against praise

Last week I attended Karen Skinulis’s wonderful workshop on “Positive Discipline for Toddlers”, presented by the Family Care Office. Karen is an expert in the field, with a few published books (such as Parent Talk and Practical Parenting), and a warm and caring personality. So when she started talking, I was Listening. You know, Listening with a big L. As a parent, I want answers and I want direction. I want to know the right way (sound familiar?) and Karen had some good ideas.

She was telling us the importance of encouraging our toddlers, and how that is different from praising. And that reminded me of an Alfie Kohn article I read years ago, while pregnant with my first daughter. I thought the guy had an excellent point and vowed not to praise my kids. And then I became a parent. Just as fast as I broke the “my children shall never eat junk food” vow, I began blurting out a steady stream of “good jobs”. It’s just so hard not to!

But as Karen reminded me last week, it’s not worth it. Praising has the potential to turn my kids into people pleasers, having their self-esteem tied to receiving compliments. I want to encourage my son and my daughter to feel content in the activities they participate in, to find their own drawings beautiful, and to find out on their own what they like. I can, and will continue to, encourage them by using descriptive comments like, “Wow, there is a lot of colour in this drawing! How do you feel about it? Did you enjoy making it?” but I will leave it up to them to derive happiness from what they do.

So that’s it for my 2013 new year’s resolution: hold the praising, increase the encouragement. Now, the absolutely-no-junk-food rule will have to wait until 2014. I can only commit to one resolution at a time…