Praising Behavior has Changed in This Generation and Must We Grandparents Change With It

praising-your-childrenGood boy!

Good girl!

We used to say that to our children for a job well done.

Now it is preserved for our animals.

WebMD has a great general article on how praising behavior has changed in this generation.

We are to praise what the grandchildren do, the process, rather than end result.  After all, how many of our grandchildren athletes will become professional?  P.S. I know mine will (I should put a smiley emoji with heart eyes here).

The best and informative article is “Good job!” Is Praising Young Children a Good idea?” by Lauren Lowry.  I was curious when we went away from “good boy” and “good girl” and why and this article answered those questions in detail.  Lauren Lowry, the author, said we have used “good boy” and “good girl” to praise children since the 1880’s until a 1969 study, “that the idea of using praise to motivate children really took off after the publication of “The Psychology of Self-Esteem” in 1969, which suggested that many of the problems of American society resulted from lack of self-esteem.  As a result, praise became a way to boost children’s self-esteem, and over a thousand scholarly articles have since promoted the use of praise to improve children’s motivation and school performance.”

She goes on to say the idea of praise changed again in the 1980’s and 1990’s, when we Boomer grandparents were almost done raising our children, and then “some scholars started to argue that praise can undermine children’s motivation, create pressure to continue performing well, discourage risk taking, and reduce independence.

At the time we were near the end of our hands on parenting of our own children, scholars felt praise was harmful, actually a form of manipulation to get children to do what parents want and get our approval.  Frankly, this Grandma sees nothing wrong with that.  I now remember that we were beginning to be told as parents to use “disappointment,” that we were disappointed at certain behaviors we found should not continue.  I do remember telling my then teenager how disappointed I was in her behaviors.  It did nothing.  But, maybe it was that teenager.

So, how are we to praise our grandchildren today to conform to current norms?  I always say current norms because a new study could come out tomorrow (like the new ones on breastfeeding) and we may be able to go back to praising our grandchildren as we do our animals.

Here is the difference of praising the person and praising behavior and why and how we are supposed to praise behavior, not the person.

According to Lauren Lowry, praising the person “evaluates a child’s traits, like his intelligence . . . telling her that she is good or smart or outstanding. Examples of this kind of praise include, “You’re a good girl”, “You’re so good at this”, or “I’m very proud of you”. Studies have shown that person praise reduces motivation, focuses students on their performance and encourages them to compare their performance with that of others.”

We grandparents are supposed to praise the process.  According to Lauren Lowry, “this type of praise is related to the child’s effort, and focuses on his or her behavior and actual “work” or output. Examples of process praise include “you tried really hard” or “I see how carefully you are building that tower.” Process praise has been shown to encourage children to develop a flexible mindset, confront their weaknesses, and take on challenges.”

So, if our toddler draws fabulous swiggles, and of course, all of their swiggles are fabulous, we say, “you used a lot of bright colors in your picture.”  If they used only black, gray, and brown, contact a parent immediately.  If the toddler makes a tall tower with blocks, we just comment on how tall it is.  We communicate about the tower.  If they share with a sibling, we acknowledge that behavior, and according to Lauren Lowry, we are promoting the continuation of that effort, cooperation and a positive relationship.

Now the hard part is what to avoid:

“Avoid praise for low-challenge activities or error-free success – as this tells a child that he is only praiseworthy when he completes tasks quickly, easily and perfectly, and does not help a child embrace challenge.”

“Be careful when praising after failure or mistakes – Praise such as “Well done. You did your best” can convey pity. It can also contribute to a child’s belief that his or her mistakes are a result of an underlying fixed ability or intelligence (which can’t be improved or changed) rather than due to effort (which can be improved). And telling a child to “Try harder” does not give the child any information about how to improve his or her effort. It may be best to provide process praise and identify what the child did accomplish in this case. For example, “You missed the goal, but it was very, very close!”

“Provide natural consequences – when it comes to communication, praise can get in the way of conversation. Communication is its own reward, so, providing praise regarding a child’s attempts to communicate by saying “Yay! You said `cookie’!” or “Nice talking!” undermines the real purpose of communication, which is to share thoughts and feelings and to get things done. Therefore, if your child says “cookie”, give him a cookie and talk about the cookie, which is far more reinforcing since it tells him that his communication was effective. If your child points to bubbles, say, “Wow! Look at all the bubbles!” or talk about how they are floating in the air or how they pop. Your child will be motivated just by having his message understood and responded to with enthusiasm.”

So, now I know, when the baby grandchild begins talking and says a word, I should repeat it and talk about the word, not jump up and down and do a silly dance as I was inclined to do?

The ultimate goal, according to the author is that we want “children to be self-motivated and to embrace challenge and that means not making them dependent on praise.”

This is a perfect time for this Grandma to go back to her mantra.  Grandparenting is all joy and no responsibility.  This is one blog to pass along to the parents of the grandchildren for them to learn how to apply the new norms on praise on a daily basis.  For me, I will stick with the one sentence that has stuck in my mind and I can remember. . . .

“Good Job.”

Whatever the grandchild has done is a good job.  I do want them to become dependent on this Grandma’s praise.  Isn’t it our grandparent job to show them unconditional love whatever they do?  And it is easy to praise our grandchildren, in vivid detail, as to how even their huge poop or finishing all the cake on their plate is the best.

TMI.  Too much information and too much responsibility other than to remember I cannot say “good girl” or “good boy” or I can expect to get a dirty look from a parent of my grandchild.  Do I care?









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