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The Negatives of Praise
January 30, 2003

"If you insist on measuring yourself, place the tape around your heart rather than your head."
‚Ä" Carol Trabelle


In the Beginnings Workshop article "Not in Praise of Praise" in the July, 1995 issue of Child Care Information Exchange, Kathleen Grey noted some of the unintended consequences of praise...

"Praise as it is commonly used, expressed through an excess of wow words, is too frequently a manipulation. As such, it breeds resistance and suspicion (which may be only half consciously felt) and acts to weaken the connection between the praiser and the praised. And for many people, it sets up a puzzling dilemma -- 'If I do this again so I can get praise again, will I be doing it of my own accord or because I'm hooked on having this person's praise.'

"Another hazard of praise is the tangled situation that is familiar to anyone who has reared or taught young children. I want to validate this child so I praise some act or way of being only to discover that the child wants to hear the praise again and tries to elicit it by repeating the behavior I had praised. But what if it was an act for which I have lost my enthusiasm? Do I pretend I didn't see the bid for more praise? Do I fake the enthusiasm to make her feel good (this is especially hard when I faked it to start with)? Or shall I be brutally honest and tell her it isn't cute when she does it over and over again? In other words, how do I deal with the obvious need for praise in the child who looks to me for praise for an act performed over and over again long after I have lost my admiration for it? And most important of all, what is the message this experience conveys to the child...that she must dream up something more stunning in order to elicit those addicting wow words from me again? Is this what making her fell good about herself is all about? Is that really building self-esteem? It looks like abject dependence to me....

"Praise is often empty because of our tendency to go on automatic pilot when we're busy and say, 'Great!' 'Good job!' 'Oh, isn't that pretty!' 'You're such a good painter!' without stopping to think about the child's reality (other than the assumption that he needs praise). Such praise doesn't tell the child what it is you're affirming as good, nor does it tell him what you mean when you say something is good...does it mean that it's morally right?....or that it's what you like?....or what makes it good? Wouldn't it be more informative, and therefore more satisfying (to you and to him), if he could hear his effort described and his intention noted, no matter what level of performance he achieved?"

You can get a copy of the complete article "Not in Praise of Praise" in two ways on our web site www.ChildCareExchange.com. You can go to the Article Archives and type in the authors last name, Grey, in the search tool. Or, you can go the Exchange Bookstore and order the Beginnings Workshop for July 1995, "Building Self Image."


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