Many parents ask me this: “Teacher Kean, should I praise my children to encourage them?” Coming from a South-east Asian culture, I understand why parents are asking me this. Traditionally, many of us were brought up to be humble and our parents were stingy with their praise. However, more recently, there’s been increasing focus and research to show that positive parenting is the way forward. Understandably, many parents are now confused.
So here’s the thing, positive reinforcement can be a very powerful tool in helping us bring up happy and healthy children. The problem is – most of us are doing it wrong.
Hi, my name is Teacher Kean from Teaching Worthy. I’m a licensed headmaster with the Ministry of Education and a certified HRDF trainer. My job is to help parents become better parents.
There is tons of research to show that children (and adults) respond far more positively to positive reinforcement when compared to criticism. Here’s the problem. Most parents (and managers in the office) do not know that positive reinforcement, when used incorrectly, can backfire and is harmful to your children.
There is a difference between ACKNOWLEDGEMENT and PRAISE.
When do we give ACKNOWLEDGEMENT to our children? When they have MET expectations.
PRAISE, on the other hand, should be reserved, and should only be given to our children when they have put in extraordinary effort or when they have exceeded expectations.
So here’s an example. To give acknowledgement, here’s what we can say: “Ivan, thank you for washing your dishes today! It’s very important for us to clean as we go.”
In the above example, it would be incorrect for us to PRAISE Ivan. Why? Because washing dishes is a fundamental chore which is expected of Ivan on a daily basis.
In this situation, Ivan has just MET expectations. He did not go above and beyond. So praise would be incorrect here.
Now, how do we give acknowledgement to our children? 3 simple steps: first of all, state what the child has done, secondly, thank him or her. Thirdly, with positivity.
Now you may be asking, Teacher Kean, what’s wrong with giving PRAISE? Well, an American Psychological Association study has shown that even young children have come to listen for and disregard insincere praise. Even young children are able to distinguish that insincere praise means that their work is inferior and that they only deserve a consolation.
In fact more recently, a researcher, Carol Dweck, has shown that students have come to interpret frequent praise as a sign that they are doing poorly and that they require encouragement from their teacher.
Perhaps even more importantly, as parents, we have to remember to only reinforce actions or choices, not traits. For example, our child can’t choose to be “smart” or “talented” BUT he can choose to “work hard” or to “tidy up his room”.
Now, reinforcing these positive choices or actions encourages him to do it again in the future.
On the other hand, if we were to PRAISE our child as being “smart” he may take fewer risks in the future because he knows that it’s not a guarantee that he can replicate it a 100% in the future. Furthermore, if our child already believes that he is “smart”, he may not risk that reputation by doing things above and beyond what is expected of him. Our children will learn to fear challenges instead of welcoming them.
Obviously, this is a far more complex question that most parents initially think. Now, if you have a unique situation or if you think that you require specific advice, please do not hesitate to contact us at www.teachingworthy.com. Thank you, and please remember to share these lessons which are worth sharing.