Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Anxiety and Praise

Okay, this this is what I was going to say at Cindy's, it is a theory about how to praise kids. Cindy had been talking about a kid responding to a reward for good behavior with a rage. I'm too lazy to find that post but here is where she talks about comments related to the incident.

There is a theory about praise -- too much creates anxiety. I don't know whether it is true, but I tried to follow the recommendations for non-anxiety producing praise with my kids and I like it. The idea is that when you tell a someone that they are "good" one part of their reaction is to think "no, I'm not." As adults we often do that verbally. Your guest says, "That was such a good dinner. You are such a good cook!" We respond, "Oh, not really. You should have seen the disaster I created last week!" None of us feels comfortable when someone tells us that we are much better than we believe ourselves to be.

Children though have not learned how to reduce paise to a non-anxiety producing level on their own. You tell them that they they are "such a good boy/girl" and just like when you tell me that I am a great cook they think, "No I'm not." They don't have the verbal skills to deal with it, so they do something "bad" to show you that they are not really all that good.

SO...the recommendation is that you don't use "big" praise words. Instead you notice and comment on how you feel. It is simple and really difficult at the same time. You tell them to clean their room and they actually do it. Thrilled you say, "Wow. Look at this room. It is a joy to be in" and you bite your tongue before you add "you are such a good kid" or "see, you can clean if you put your mind to it." If all you do is notice and appreciate, the kid gets to finish the sentence and they believe it. You say, "Just look at this room. There is nothing on the floor. How did you manage that?" The child then says, "I just found places to put everything!" "Wow. Just being in this room makes me feel relaxed and happy." The child then draws the conclusion that they are good at organization.

I REALLY like this way of communicating with kids. I have found that if I can do it and sound natural (not easy) it can work really well.

I did this a lot with Andrew, and it seemed to "work" in every way. The more I did it, the more cooperative and responsible he became. I thought that I was the best parent on the planet.

Then Brian came along and a lot of my fancy skills just didn't work. Brian seemed immune to praise or criticism. He did what he wanted when he wanted. Thank goodness most of the time what he wants to do was within the range of acceptable behavior. When he was three and I would comment and tell him that something he did made me happy or sad he would look at me like he was saying, "Gee, Mom. I'd love to hear all about your emotional states -- but I got stuff to do."


  1. Good advice (and then you say "no it's not").

    Yes it is. I'm guilty of saying "good" far too often.

    Still on a dog search?

  2. Thanks for this. I just wrote about praising on my blog yesterday. I had never heard about the anxiety thing, but it makes sense. And it also makes sense not to connect the person "good girl" with the behavior. Thanks.

  3. Forget using this on the kids....I think this might actually get my spouse to put dirty clothes in the hamper!

    Really, I think it makes alot of sense. I'm gonna have to train myself to think this way.


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