“What a torment to bring up [these children]!” – suffered Freken Bock in the cartoon “Kid and Carlson. And scold all the time wrong, and over-praise scary!
Imagine that your boss offers you a few extra days of vacation or a bonus or 8th grade math book if you do an urgent project quickly and qualitatively. Will you begin to work from this more effectively? Most likely. And if the boss says that he will fire you if the project is not ready on time? It is likely that you will also try to work effectively, but you will be driven by fear rather than anticipation of pleasure, and therefore your performance will be lower than in the first case. If the fear is too strong, your brain may become paralyzed by the expectation of punishment and begin to think not about how to do the project, but about how to avoid the consequences. The result will be little predictable, and that’s given that we are adults, and we seem to know how to control ourselves.
For children under the age of 10, negative ways of regulation don’t work the way many parents and teachers assume. “If you don’t do it, I won’t give it to you, I won’t let you in, I’ll take it away, I’ll give you a D” – all this causes stress and anxiety in the child, eventually the brain turns off the “fuse” so as not to overheat, and cares about survival, not about what would be so interesting to master.
You’ve probably heard that the “red pen” method, or constant fixing, doesn’t work, but the “green pen method”-support for doing the right thing works?
So what to do with 7th grade science? Offer constant bonuses, praise, and always support in everything? Yes and no. Alas, it’s not that simple. Parents who constantly tell their children that they are amazing, great, unique, the most beautiful in the world, the smartest and the most dexterous believe that they are supporting their child’s self-esteem and giving them a pathway to a happy life. In this way they show unconditional love for the child and for any manifestation of it.
Constant, excessive praise for every action can cause a child to perceive it as background, and if one day the approving text doesn’t come through, he’ll start to anxiously listen and look around: “Where’s my reinforcement? Did I do the right thing? Mom, do you even love me?”
Children who are continually praised often feel valued and at the same time devalued. How so? “If all my results are noticed, that means I’m constantly being evaluated, I’m under constant scrutiny. If I’m always being praised, it doesn’t matter at all what I’m doing.” By the way, exactly the same thing happens if a child is scolded and reprimanded almost continuously.
“If I am the best, the most beautiful and unique, then what about the others? They are all inferior to me, and therefore worthy to communicate with me only in the position of vassals. And if these children claim leadership positions or at least equality, it is dangerous, because they will want to throw me off the symbolic throne and tear the crown, so I will not be friends with them. And as a consequence, difficulties in relationships with peers.
“If I am the best and the smartest, then I do not need to strive and learn anything: I got my brains from nature! What if someone suddenly becomes socially more successful than me…?” Such a thing can cause envy, but it will not give you an understanding of what you need to do to achieve what you want.
Of course, the intentions of parents who praise their children are the most positive! They probably even remember how painfully they themselves experienced situations when they were scolded and unsupported as children, and are ready to compensate for this through their child. Not only that, if there are many moms, dads, and grandmothers around, constantly praising their children, you can feel the social pressure: “Why am I and my child worse off than others? Why don’t I praise him all the time?”
Let’s discuss ways to encourage children that are sure to help them trust themselves and the world more and encourage kids to be independent, proactive, and socially successful.
What kinds of encouragement can there be?
A smile and attentive look when you approve a child’s actions.
Hugs and kisses when your child doesn’t mind.
Time that you spend the way your child wants it.
Try to create a vishlist: a list of wishes, different activities, events that he would like to do someday himself or to participate together with his family, make it in the form of cards, attach it to the fridge, for example, and choose the “prizes”. When parents have the opportunity and desire to encourage the child, you can choose from this list.
A surprise that shows that you noticed the child’s efforts and now you want to show it to him. It is important that the surprise corresponds to his desires, not what seems useful to parents. For some it will be a trip to a video club with new games, for others a trip to a friend’s house for a sleepover.
Any encouragement is a demonstration of your love and a creation of an environment of trust and development for your child.
“In terms of behavioral neurophysiology, the developmental and educational environment can be described as follows: attachment support, understanding personal meaning (why me), creating habit and trust <…> and I have already written about love,” notes Peter Wybrow in The Brain: Fine Tuning.
It’s not just the amount of praise and encouragement that matters, but their quality and the meanings that adults put into them. Girls run the risk of starting to attach too much importance to their beauty if those around them praise them for it: they start to think that it is necessary to be beautiful, not to learn and work, and this is the main way to happiness and success.
In boys, this kind of bias can happen when they are praised for their strength: “You eat a lot of gruel, you’ll be strong and you’ll beat everyone!” And they realize that the main thing is to eat gruel, to beat everyone, and not to work their heads off.
Encouragement and praise are ways to convey family and general cultural values to a child that you share.
How and what to praise your child for?
Notice and recognize your children’s efforts
If your child is far from first on their sports team or in high school math, but he or she persists in going to practice and studying, tries to solve problems on his or her own or asks for help and doesn’t stop, overcoming challenges, those efforts should be noticed and supported. For example: “It’s so great that you’re spending a lot of time to learn this!”
If the action is given to him without difficulty or effort, you can rejoice with him: “I can see that you like it,” but don’t tell him he’s doing great: the child may feel like an imposter.
Reward for the process, not just or not so much for the result
For example: “You prepared seriously for this quiz, solved a lot of problems, more than last time, and the result was worthy.”
Name the specific action that led to the desired result
For example, instead of, “You are a good, obedient boy,” it is better to say, “You were so busy playing Lego, playing by yourself in your room, and I was able to make a delicious lunch.
Motivate better with the joy of the result than with money or buying candy
“You got an A, here’s a certain amount of money,” is how we show that doing something is important for the money, not for the fun of learning and the joy of the result.
It’s a good idea to celebrate a major accomplishment or the completion of a long process of work: a performance at a concert, a sports team win, a better report card grade than the last quarter/trimester in the way the child wants, such as a wish list or a family dinner. This way you celebrate the effort and perseverance he or she has put in.
Encourage them to try new things.
Experiments have a right to life! Even if things don’t work out right away, trying new things is not only fun, but it’s also about overcoming yourself and having a new experience.
Children sense falsehoods, and if you regularly praise them with a fake, stop to understand where they are really good and should continue to act in the same spirit, and where “parents always say so, but it doesn’t mean anything.
Support all independent attempts, even if they are not particularly successful.
If they don’t try, they won’t learn. For example: “You baked cookies, so great! Yes, they burned today, but it’s the first time you’ve tried them. What do you think you can do next time so you don’t miss it? Can we have tea with it?”
Encourage children as they work, not just when they are finished
For example: “Wow, you keep doing this project, putting so much effort into it. You can be proud of yourself, you’ve been so persistent!”
Focus on the children’s feelings.
It’s important to hear not “I’m proud of you!” but “You can be proud of yourself!” And then you can add about the parents’ joy, too.
Children are not our direct extension, and their successes and failures are not our successes and failures. Children want to be seen as their personalities, their efforts, not emphasize “how much Mom has done for you.”
Always support your child’s self-care
Everything is good in moderation. For example: “You’ve worked so hard, maybe go for a walk, meet some friends, go for a scooter ride?”
Of course, words of encouragement and praise at the right time and in the right place do not equal love for your child and the joy of having them in your life. You may have different opinions, you may like completely different things, but you are teaching him and learning yourself to be together with another, different person from you, to respect his opinion, his space, to love him so dearly and as a separate person at the same time.