Can too much praise be damaging?(9 Posts)
My 5 year old son is bright and articulate. Always has been. He's doing really well at school, singled out for reading and writing progress. But he's also become a * little * too knowing; says things like 'I'm the best at reading etc' and corrects me if, god forbid, I say a word wrong. I've pulled him up on it - but am hyper aware of how this might translate to his peers, new friendship groups. I want to avoid him being precocious, which is a possibility.
We praise him for things he's done well. We obviously shower him with love. But equally, I'm quite hard nosed about telling him off.
Have we praised him too much?
There is a line of thought/studies showing that a certain type of praise can be quite damaging for children. Namely the overused 'well done/good job/nice work' etc. It is healthier to praise the effort rather than the outcome e.g instead of 'that is an amazing painting, you are so good at painting' it should be something like 'I can see you have worked really hard at that, I love the yellow sun'. This is because if you persistently tell a child they are a good reader/writer/painter/athlete then they have an unconscious pressure to maintain this because it's what they have been told they are. If somewhere down the line your son ceases to be 'singled out' then he may get upset as he will feel his idea of himself being the best at reading may not ring true and he will feel like he is failing. He will feel he has to maintain other people view of him.
I have a know-it-all 7yo so know what it's like but he is well read so he generally does know a lot and his teacher continues to be surprised at the extent of his general knowledge - but this isn't pointed out to him as it will make him a hundred times worse! Needless to say I am parenting my 2yo differently in that instead of praising him for things he does I just say things like 'yes, you did it!' And 'yes, I saw you climb to the top of the slide' so I am showing him I'm interested in what he is doing and joining him in his celebration of what he has achieved (if needed). Hopefully this will mean he will make an effort to achieve things for himself rather than others.
Praise is a good thing but it sounds like you may need to balance it out with a discussion regarding 'showing off' at school and explain why that's not socially acceptable.
Some role play may help.
I'd also pull him up pretty sharpish about disrespectful comments to adults (eg correcting you) you aren't his peer and his shouldn't be talking to you as if you are.
My DS is friends with a very bright boy. He's fairly well behaved on the whole but I never enjoy his visits to our house because he is so cheeky and disrespectful. I gave him a lift to a party (without which he would not have been able to attend) and he had the temerity to critique my driving on the way home. We had a fairly pointed discussion as a result.
He too spends time telling everyone he is better than them - it isn't winning him any friends.
This might explain what I'm trying to say better -
Praise is a good thing providing it's not continual and is the right kind of praise.
Also - I have changed my parenting for 7yo to the same as the 2yo, basically praising his efforts rather than outcome and I have noticed a positive effect on him in that rather than looking to me for confirmation as to whether he has done a 'good job' he can decided for himself wether he has worked hard enough on something then come to me to share his hard work.
if someone continuously said to you "good job, great work, excellent, well done"
The novelty would wear off, it would lose its truth.
If someone said " I can see you worked really hard on that, or that was really difficult but you nailed it, or I could see you concentrated really hard"
There's a difference
otoh they do reach an age where they get cynical about fashionable "handbook" speech
ds was not very old when he had worked out that from an adult "I hear you" basically meant "and I'm not going to pay any attention"
dd would definitely have suspected that "I can see you have worked very hard" meant "and it looks shit"; a little older and she would know it meant "I have read the right books and intend to say the right thing"
the other problem unless the job is done right under your eyes is you might not know how hard they worked at it. I thought as a child that I worked hard because my parents praised me for that: the truth is that I was very bright and could cobble together something that looked like hard work with minimal effort
I don't think the words you use are all that important; what matters is your persona: if they believe in you as a person whose praise is worth having
it's about how often you praise, it's also about things like body language and the expression in your eyes; it's about your willingness to give other people their due as well
Thanks, all. That's a really interesting article and I totally get it. I think we need to change our slant.
I do pull him up a lot on the stuff I think will rub others up the wrong way. Too bossy, telling people off etc. And we really underpin values - being nice to people, including other friends etc - I'm definitely not blinded to this stuff.
Equally, i don't want to be telling him all the time not to be this, or that, or this...that could also make him feel self-conscious.
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