Behavior Modification: Praise
I've been meaning to post a link to this for awhile. For the past year or so I've been working extremely hard on cutting out non-stop praise to my child. This has been a hard habit to break. My journey started after reading the book Unconditional Parenting by Alfie Kohn. This is one of those books that I will likely need to reread several times and perhaps smack myself with it a few times in order for the concepts to sink in. What I love about this book is that it's not another compilation of parenting techniques and/or methods of coercing a child into right behavior. This book introduces a complete paradigm shift on parenting and the role of a parent in a child's life. I'd highly recommend this for anyone, even if the end result is that a person doesn't agree with anything. This is one of those books that really causes you to think about how you're raising your children and why you're doing it the way that you are. I think the thing that I love is also the thing that makes this book difficult. It's not a step by step how to book on parenting. A person won't read this and know exactly what to do in a given parenting situation. Rather, reading this book will cause a parent to think differently about the situation at hand. It's very challenging and has probably been one of the books that has helped me the most in terms of shifting out of rewards/consequences parenting that is based on behavioral methods.
I think Hippie Housewife made some great points in her blog. I've definitely seen praise in action. As someone who trained and worked in the field of child development, I was taught to deliver a nonstop stream of praise to children. As an infant teacher I would praise a child, "Good job putting the triangle in the hole!" This sounds harmless, but here's what I've come to realize. Prior to the praise the child was hard at work figuring out the shape sorter toy. The little gears were turning in his head and he was intent on exploring the different shapes and shaped holes. Once praise enters the picture, the child has stopped focusing on the shape sorter and is now focusing on me and my reaction. Rather than continuing to work and experiencing the internal joy of figuring things out, the child is now excited by my reaction. It's easy for me to see how an ongoing pattern of such interruptions to a child's activities could cause a child to look to others for rewards as opposed to being satisfied with internal feelings of satisfaction. Another example I can think of is when I worked in a residential care facility where children were brought up on point cards and awarded positive points for "good" behaviors. I can tell you that I saw many of these seemingly "good" children engaged in completely different behaviors when no one was looking. Those children who had been at the facility a long time and had years of this sort of training seemed to lack very basic internal motivation to behave morally. This is a more extreme example, but still the result of constant external motivators nonetheless.
It is very hard though. I catch myself saying to Boo things like, "What a great drawing!" and "Good job building with blocks!" all the time. No, they're not inherently evil things to say, but better responses would focus on what he drew and discussing his drawing with him. "You used a lot of blue in that spot," or in block building "You put two towers on that castle."
I am as always a work in progress as a mother. This is one of those habits that is extremely hard to break, but I will keep trying!