First Light Early Education Program

A Community of Healthy Families

In Praise of Praising Less

on July 1, 2014

Have you ever wondered why First Light uses encouragement instead of praise?

If you’re like me, you’ve probably used statements like “Good job,” “Way to go,” and “Nice work,” for years. Before I started at First Light, I praised liberally because I believed it was an effective way to help children feel good about themselves and their work. I thought I was helping build self-esteem and positive image.

However, research and experience show encouragement instead of praise will help to bolster children’s self-esteem and self-image.

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Many well-intentioned teachers and parents have used praise to improve children’s self-esteem and self-image, but the outcome can be just the opposite.  Alfie Kohn (1999), noted author of Punished by Rewards: The Trouble with Gold Stars, Incentive Plans, A’s, Praise, and Other Bribes, explains the potential damage to children when adults use praise. Children learn to depend on adults for figuring out what is right or wrong, instead of developing this ability themselves.

Rather than rely on their intrinsic motivation to learn, learning or “performing” is done in order to please others. Children lost the interest and ability to work and learn on their own.

By contrast, children who can evaluate their own performance with encouraging feedback from interested adults remain involved. Moreover, they are self-correcting, that is, they can ask questions of themselves and work to solve problems on their own. Learning is inherently satisfying.

Furthermore, “praise” implies judgment. Children know that if you can judge them favorably, you can also judge them unfavorably. Exploring or trying something new might result in “failure” from the adult’s perspective, so children stick with what is safe and has earned them praise before.

How do we move from praise to encouragement?

Our next post will talk about some specific strategies for incorporating more encouragement and less praise.

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