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praise culture

(18 Posts)
HummusNKetchup Mon 12-Sep-11 22:42:56

All the time my DC were at nursery, they were told that everything they were told that every piece of artwork, lego construction or observation they made was great, excellent, clever, good, super or fantastic. Now they are at school, the reading record tells them the same thing, with the addition of superb and splendid.

I've noticed DS2 in particular, who likes building things out of lego, always asks "is it good?" when showing me his constructions.

I do praise my children - but a lot less than the school and nursery have done. If it's yet another identically shaped lego tower to the last one, I'll pick it up, have a good look at it and comment on the fact that it's symmetrical or that there's a red brick at the top etc. I might say it's an interesting structure, or it looks like a fort. I use words like great, excellent, clever, good, super and fantastic but sparingly. When I'm writing in a reading record I sometimes use words and phrases like careless, errors, "not completely on the ball today".

I read through my eldest son's reading record today - every single comment by the class teacher was a fabby doo wonderful word of praise, while mine were about 70:30 critical to fabby doo. When I say critical - this was balanced criticism like "quite a lot of little errors but generally self-corrected" rather than "terrible reading from DS tonight" etc.

anyhow, it got me thinking that either (a) I'm a complete cow who is the only person in the world who fails to appreciate the general fabulousness of my children and how their fragile personae will crumble into shameful dust at any hint of criticism or (b) there's a bit of a culture, among people who care for children, to praise them all the bloody time whether they deserve it or not.

Surely it can't be good for anyone's world view to be told all the time, across the board that everything they do is fabby and splendid and that they're super hard workers have a sticker?

or is this just me smile

confidence Tue 13-Sep-11 01:01:22

It's not just you, your feeling about it is probably fairly typical of people whose ideas were formed before the current educational vogue for such things, and similar to how mine was for a long time. But I must admit I've been thinking about this a lot recently and, with large helpings of humble pie, coming round to accept the current ethos.

The thing is that you're judging the value of praise and criticism by how accurate it is, so that the kids can clearly and objectively take that information and act upon it. That might be valid as a management technique in a company of adults, but it's not really how kids think and work.

With young kids - certainly most of the way through primary school, motivation is EVERYTHING. If you motivate a child to love what they're doing and continue exploring it, they will quite naturally discover more and more things within it that people attach value judgments to, and strive to do them well. If OTOH you make the child see it as a question of dry rightness or wrongness that they sometimes pass and sometimes fail, then they may well decide it's better not to try than to run the risk of failing.

An example: My daughter is very keen on music and I teach her the piano. Because she started very early, I found an unusual but inspired method to use, designed specifically for children from the age of 3, and one of the mantras running throughout it was that you NEVER criticise a child at that age, or say that anything they're playing is "wrong".

I'm an experienced music teacher and I found this extremely challenging, but the more I did the more I realised that I really didn't NEED to criticise. Absolutely every piece of awareness of something to strive towards that needs to be planted in her can be done positively. For example if I want her to play with more dynamic contrast, I don't tell her she's doing it wrong. I wait until an occasion when she IS doing it, even if only a little, and make a big song and dance about it. When I do, I can literally see the joy on her face and the determination as she carries on trying to do it even more, to find more opportunities to do it.

I resisted this for a long time in mainstream education but it really is true you know, particularly when very young. You need to ask yourself WHY you're criticising, what you hope will be achieved by it, and whether the reactions of your kids suggest that that really is being achieved. Is it that you're criticising in order to satisfy your own desire for truth or acknowledgment of how things are, rather than focusing on what will motivate your little ones to continue loving to learn?

StitchingMoss Tue 13-Sep-11 03:34:45

Have you read the book Nurture Shock?

This makes the very interesting point about praising the effort not the end result. It sounds obvious but is actually very important, IMHO, as it means that children understand that working hard at something is what is important not always achieving something brilliant.

Does that make sense?

I totally understand where you're coming from on the over-praising thing, although I take confidence's point too. I think it's a balancing act that will largely depend on the individual child too.

nooka Tue 13-Sep-11 04:07:41

I've also read the chapter in FutureShock on praise, and I think it makes a very similar point to confidence, that is the thing to be mindful of is whether your input encourages your child to try harder next time. If a child feels that praise is given when they know they haven't tried, it becomes over time a disincentive. If they don't feel their effort is recognised that also leads to less effort. The praise problem is when a child is told that it is really good at something and then they hit a problem and they feel that they can't fail (because everyone has told them they are clever) so they may get very upset and decide actually they aren't clever, or they just don't want to do the task at all. The research cited in the book showed that if you praise a child for being a hard worker or trying to figure things out they are more likely to persevere in the face of difficulties.

My view from reading your OP is that there is probably some middle ground between your options - 70:30 does seem a bit on the negative side, but in general few of us always put 100% into our work so possibly your children's teachers are being a little too consistently positive. Having said that, if your children are small then reading is hard work and they may need lots of encouragement, just focused on the effort they've made.

Regarding teachers in general, I might have agreed with you if I only had dd (who always gets totally glowing reports) but as I have ds too I haven't felt this way, as his reports usually go along the lines of 'ds is very clever but..."

nooka Tue 13-Sep-11 04:10:07

On and on the Lego one tactic you might try is when your ds asks you 'is it good' ask him in turn what he thinks (what does he like best about it, how does it compare to the last tower etc) - for this sort of creative stuff I think it's more important for children to develop a feel for their own sense of style than to be too worried about whether someone else likes it. Plus you are likely to have a more interesting conversation grin

IndigoBell Tue 13-Sep-11 06:08:04

I agree. Never tell him whether his lego or his artwork is good or not.

Ask him what he likes about it, why he did it like that, etc. Get him to talk to you about it. And never make a judgement about it.

Let him decide whether or not it's any good.

And only praise effort, not achievement.

whenIgetto3 Tue 13-Sep-11 11:31:04

We have been having this discussion with our DSs all summer. My DH keeps telling them that there is no 6th place winner. He is explaining to them that only 1 person/team can win, you can be a runner up but not a 6th place winner. We have just spent 2 years in the USA and you got trophies for everything there, it is a bit of a shock for our DCs coming home and not getting a trophy just for entering a competition. We do praise them and we tell them that we are all winners in the effort competition as long as we try our best mummy and daddy will be proud, but really 6th place winner confused

Elibean Tue 13-Sep-11 11:40:34

I'm with Indigo - far better for any judgement to come from them, not us, on the whole. But I find it SO hard to put into practice blush

Kids respond differently, too - and need different things - eg:

dd1 told me she hates it when I make a fuss of her or go over the top: ''well done' is ok, Mummy, but if you say something is brilliant I feel all pressured and have to do even better next time'. She is 7. She also loathes performing in public, or being praised in public. She is bright, creative, and somewhat insecure - I can see she needs help in making her own mind up, rather than having labels stuck on.

dd2, OTOH, loves being made a fuss of and clearly feels good about herself when praised. She is 4.5, and has a stronger sense of herself already - she enjoys praise, but still makes her own mind up about how good something is and is quite capable of disagreeing!

confidence Tue 13-Sep-11 11:52:43

That's interesting Elibean, my two are a bit like that as well.

I think praise can be counterproductive when you're praising the child for something they didn't really want to do, but are only doing through gritted teeth to keep you off their back. In these cases, praise can be almost like a kind of gloating that you've "won" in determining what they do, and can really piss them off.

clam Tue 13-Sep-11 12:04:53

I think confidence makes a very good point (fantastic, brilliant, well done grin ) about picking something particularly commendable in, say, a piano piece and praising that in order to improve. But that's specific and intended, whereas a lot of the "praise" given nowadays is quite lazy praise really, and actually devalues the currency of being positive.

Do I get a sticker?

BallantyneBird Tue 13-Sep-11 12:38:41

I guess it makes sense to praise young children so that when they are pointed towards a task they immediately think 'oh yes, I'm good at that', and are more likely to feel proud and happy about being able to do it and want to do it again iyswim.

BirdyBedtime Tue 13-Sep-11 13:04:30

I struggled with this too last year when DD was in P1 (Scotland). Her teachers (job-share) were great but very very effusive resulting in lots of superlatives in both reading book, reports and general comments. She picked up on it and started saying to me " isn't my drawing just wonderful mummy" etc and I'd say "yes, it's a very nice picture of X with lots of detail and I'm pleased you worked so hard and concentrated etc". I read something years ago about praising the action, not the result and have always tried to follow this.

Her teachers (another job-share!) this year seem a bit less OTT in my opinion and so far her reading book comments have been more on the lines of "DD read well today, we concentrated on expression" etc.

I do worry about kids getting so used to the very strong praise at school , which seems certainly to be the way CfE is implemented, that they struggle when they move on through the education system and into work - unlikely to hear a boss saying "what an absolutely fabulous report BB, have a smiley face and 5 minutes extra lunchbreak". Surely there is a better middle ground?

sarahfreck Tue 13-Sep-11 14:11:04

I try to be very specific about my praise and use the phrase " I like the way..." a lot.

" I like the way you stopped and thought about that answer and corrected it."
" I like the way you kept trying, even though you were finding it tricky."
" I like the way you used your knowledge of times tables to work that out."
" I like the way you remembered the sentences we did last week and used another one in that style in this work." etc

Simic Sat 17-Sep-11 21:59:43

I got a LOT of praise as a child and I really feel it taught me that I was always dependent upon someone else evaluating what I´d done - my own judgement counted for nothing. Of course you can argue that in the hard, cold world it is like that, but I think children gain a lot from adults who are interested in the child´s assessment/explanation of what he or she has done. Drilling children in waiting for the rubber stamp of an adult to tell them that it´s wonderful doesn´t help anyone.

What´s more important, I think all children put effort into their work and feel that they are not taken seriously if the adults just give blanket praise. Children are actually more similar to adults than you usually think and I can remember feeling so patronised for most of my childhood. I would NEVER talk to my partner like that ("you parked the car so beautifully, darling. Well done!") - and I don´t think kids really appreciate it either - unless they have been brainwashed into thinking they are rubbish otherwise. When I talk to my 6 year old in the same tone of voice and style that I talk to adults, I sense this sort of sigh of relief in her and she starts to open up. I hated being told I was clever and had done things brilliantly all the time. When it comes down to it, praise is actually all about the adult putting the child down by exerting his god-given right to judge the child and treat them as if they are much younger than they actually are.
I think criticism is even more harmful. But I think adults are capable of talking with children about their work without a constant stream of value judgements.
And I definitely agree on putting the emphasis on the effort rather than the end result.
End of rant! smile

adelaofblois Sun 18-Sep-11 14:10:46

What constitutes 'praise' culture in schools has varied a lot. When I trained positive reinforcement was a real buzzword, and the subtleties of how and when ignored in reaction to the 'could do better' school of assessment. NQTs now seem to have a far better grounding in the balancing of praise and encouragement, in making specific comments not blanket judgments (I like the way that you did..., or 'that looks like' or 'that must have made x feel good'), and in using praise selectively to avoid devaluing it.

But ultimately I somehow feel much of this is an adult game based on precise language. Kids respond well to signs of approval, and negatively to signs of disapproval. Judging who can take what is an individual decision, complicated by the fact that kids think in group terms (why is Mary's reading commented on but not mine). Tricky to try and find a rule or a culture to attack in that context.

Runoutofideas Mon 19-Sep-11 10:37:34

Sometimes they don't even know what they are being praised for. DD1 came home last week with a "star of the week" certificate. I asked her what she'd done to get it. Her response "I don't know", then "well, I did get a lot of stars of the wall chart" - Me "and what were those stars for?" - dd1 "not sure" - Me "Oh well, well done anyway!" All seemed a bit pointless, but dd1 did like having the certificate!

Lizcat Mon 19-Sep-11 11:03:06

I grew up with praise for effort not achievement. This came about as my father is profoundly dyslexic, but was only diagnosed as an adult. He felt that nobody every noticed how hard he tried, but only how little he achieved (typical 1940s dylexic one CSE, but very succesful in life).
I feel this praise for effort shaped me and help me to be successful. I now praise my DD for trying hard, so I regularly praise literacy as she finds this more difficult, but less praise for maths as she finds this easy.

elphabadefiesgravity Mon 19-Sep-11 11:23:39

I'm reading a really, really intersting book at the moment (dh who is a leading vocal coach bought it). Its called Bounce and it is by a champion table tennis player.

It basically says that talent is not important only purposeful practice. It takes 10,000 hours to become world class at anything.

it refers to another book and studies done where two groups of students were given tasks to do. The group that were told you have done really well you are obviously good at this performed worse when a harder test was given than the group who were told you have done really well you have obviously worked hard at this.

The first group gave up more easily/were afraid of failure. The second group saw failure as a way to learn.

The author said he had seen this time and time again in sports coaching. He advocates the best way for anyone to improve at anything is always to be given purposeful feedback.

I'm only half way thourhg it but it has openend my eyes and I am going to use some of the techniques in my theatre classes.

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