Parenting Mantras

Praise and Creativity

A quick aside: Public service announcement – knitting is addictive! I used up all of my writing time over the last couple of days to knit a hat for our daughter. It was awesome, but now I feel like a yarn junkie… It feels good to get back to writing!

When we welcomed a dog into our lives 2.5 years ago we quickly started puppy training. “Good Dog” and “Bad Dog” quickly became a part of our daily vernacular. Between food/treats and labeling activities “good” and “bad”, we are proud to say  we have a relatively trained dog. Sometimes I find myself accidentally saying “good roll-over” to our daughter purely out of habit. Yikes. This got me thinking, does how we praise and motivate our kids have an impact on creativity and self-motivation? It turns out – yes, and it can impact a whole lot more such as learning, self-confidence and mental health!

No one likes being labeled “bad” for something. I may have done poorly on the last project or failed with a new venture; but that doesn’t make ME bad.  Just like adults, when children are labeled “good” or “bad” for something, they start to build this into their foundation of how they interact with the world. If I hear “you’re a good girl” from the adults in my life, and begin to complete tasks with that motivation in mind, I may have issues finding my own motivation later in life. Creativity and personal drive can be negatively impacted leaving the young person lost without this type of praise. This, and many other tidbits of advice can be found in this great article from Kids Matter.

So instead of waving a treat in front of my daughter and telling her “good roll-over”, I need to practice saying things like, “Wow, I see you are working really hard reaching for those blocks” and “I see that the hard work you are putting into your arm strength is really paying off”. Sadly, I believe this is going to take some real practice, but I can see the importance of being specific with praise and focusing on praising the enjoyment of doing something rather than praising for a successful outcome.

The BBC has an interesting take on this topic as well. The key points in this article that stuck out for me was that praise needs to be appropriate for the task and that each word really does matter. The latter is demonstrated in a study where children’s motivation was impacted when an adult told them that their drawing was ‘incredibly beautiful’ vs ‘beautiful’. Fascinating. The article also briefly mentions the importance of criticism to help steer children in the right direction so they will motivate to complete tasks correctly. In another article, Forbes links “over-praising” with narcissism. Yikes!

The lesson for me: start being specific about praise, and stop praising for EVERYTHING! While I want to help my child succeed and find her own drive for successful outcomes, I really want her to find motivation within vs. completing activities only when adults tell her she is “being good”.

Does anyone else have examples of how to be mindful about praise?  Please share!






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