There is a lot of information in the parenting literature about praise and encouragement. Praise when overdone, can be detrimental and lead to de-motivated children. Encouragement on the other hand can be very helpful to growing minds. Changing the script from praise to words of encouragement is not necessarily easy but it can make a world of difference for children's self esteem and motivation.
Maxi and I were tossing a football in the playroom a few days ago. I realized it had been by far one of the most fun times we had ever tossed the ball together – he had stayed relaxed and engaged, interested and really talkative the entire time. There was no tension, no changing of rules, sudden tears or walking away. It wasn’t just because he is getting a bit older, I knew right away that re-scripting from praise to effort was working.
Praise- It’s so tempting!
As we played, I really wanted to shout ‘Wow great throw buddy” and “Well done” every time that ball flew far into the air and I had to really work to catch it.
The thing is, in the past, whenever we played football or basketball and I had freely tossed all those “good jobs” and “wows” at him, sooner than later, tears would swell up, and my ball buddy would stomp away furious. What I didn’t understand then was all my praising was building pressure and undermining his efforts.
Sure it was meant with love, but looking into this from his perspective I understood it better. How annoyed or on edge would I be if someone would follow me and throw around “Wow nice job avoiding that meltdown.” “Record time kissing that boo-boo.” Well it’s not exactly the same thing, and I’m not making light of a parents job (it’s hard work too say the least) but what I figured out is that Maxi didn’t need me to cheer him on with all these “good jobs” for every single throw. What he really wanted was someone to play with and have a good time – it was supposed to be a game, not an evaluation, which it had become, even if I had no intention of making it so.
Change – It’s so hard!
At first, I was resistant. Could it really be that bad? I was just saying something that is supposed to be so nice…doesn’t everyone like praise? Yes, a sprinkle of praise here and there is probably not all that bad, but I’ve learned in our situation that all those “wows” were leading to insecurity and keeping my son from enjoying a simple games of ball, board games, learning too read etc…
I have learned that the only thing that needs to be tossed around when we play football is the ball. With a lot of conscious effort, When the urge to say “Wow” comes to mind, I try to focus on describing or asking something instead “Did you see how the ball almost landed on the wall?” or “That ball went really far; you must have really put your arm into that throw.” Hearing “can we play some more?” and “I’ve been having fun with you mama” tell me that this is not only working, it has also opened up space for me to really listen to what Maxi has to say, which is a lot, and that is what I call a winning game.
What is winning in your family, praise or words of encouragement?
Peace & Be Well,