Praise & Intelligence- more lessons on how to speak to my children

Awhile back I found an article disparaging saying “Good Job” to your child.  I still find myself struggling with what to say: nothing, “Good Job”, on observation of what occurred, a comment on their effort…. Enough to make a parents head spin sometimes!

For example, Br (3 3/4) has really struggled with completing potty training (the “#2” part).  At this point, I’m not real picky on whether he succeeds with the “right motivation”- we just want him to succeed.  However, when it comes to learning, acting like a decent human being, and most other things I would consider as my truly important job as a parent to convey to my child: I DO really care that he has the “right” ,& probably most important, internal, motivation.  But the whole problem with “internal” motivation is that it’s, well… INTERNAL!  Tough stuff to teach, but the most critical thing to fail on.

Today I found another article over on Parenting Science, also supported by studies :), looking at the way different types of praise effect motivation & “intelligence”.  Pretty interesting stuff. Continue reading “Praise & Intelligence- more lessons on how to speak to my children”

Related posts:

You might want to read this too:

  • This post was singularly original...wander at will!


So, the other day I came across my first offer to take part in a “link up”: an opportunity where a bunch of bloggers write about a specific topic and link to the original website that suggested it, on  The Activity Mom.  To see more, or take part your self!, you can click on the link below:

I was all set to write about how I’d gotten a ladle & a little pitcher so Br (3 3/4) could scoop his own cereal out of the box & pour himself milk for his breakfast.   I took a picture.  I was mentally preparing how I would write about what a proud Mommy I was to see my first-born child taking off in his confidence and abilities….

But then yesterday, as I was working on the laptop, I heard Br call out “I’m thirsty. Can you get me something to drink Mama?” I replied “Okay, hold on…,” as I started extracting myself from what I was enmeshed in.  I heard the rustling traces of Br grabbing his cup off the table and moving to the kitchen.  As I started to lift myself off the couch with an “I’m coming…”, I was shocked to hear the sound of the water pouring from the refrigerator dispenser.  Next thing I heard was ” I got it, Mommy.”

I stopped. Oh.

Then I felt the hitch in my chest and the corresponding thought: “my child didn’t need me.”

Now, I support my child’s independence.  I try to give him every opportunity to do things for himself and learn about things that I can think of.  But every step before, or at least every step before I had noticed, I had guided & cheered him through those initial attempt(s) until he was ready to try it on his own:

“Do you want to try going down the slide by yourself this time? Mommy can catch you at the bottom…”

“Dip the paintbrush in the water, then use that to get the paint wet. Swirl it around.  Look at all the color on your brush!”

“Look at how your foot is curved on the inside.  The shoe has a curve on the inside too. That’s how you know which foot to put it on!”

“Ok, see that tag in the back of your underwear? Put that in the back, between your feet…”

This time, I wasn’t even in the room watching. Hadn’t even suggested it.  Apparently Br had watched us do it enough times, had grown tall enough while no one was paying attention, that he could do it all on his own without any of us realizing it.  Until Br realized it on his own today.

I am sure it is not the last time my heart will be slapped with that particular hitch.  Heck, Br is less than 2 months away from being 4 years old.  I hear age 4 is ALL about “Let me do it myself!”

And there will be bike riding, and car driving, and first jobs, and graduations, and marrying, and all kinds of bigger opportunities than getting a glass of water that my little boy won’t need me anymore.  My JOB as a parent is to raise a child that can function INDEPENDENTLY in the world , though hopefully also with compassion & a conscience.

Like first loves (and isn’t your first-born child a whole other version of that?), THIS first will leave a mark and change the way I think about myself: a mother, but someday that will no longer be my primary “defining role”.

I guess I have some work to do on my independence as well.

“Hey, Br, can you get me a glass of water? I’ve got some important stuff to work on…”

Br getting water



Related posts:

You might want to read this too:

  • This post was singularly original...wander at will!

More ways I’ve been parenting wrong: whats wrong with “Good Job!”?

In wandering the internet a couple days ago, I discovered another way I have been parenting wrong.  Aargh!  And there were studies.  Double Argh!!

Apparently I shouldn’t be saying “Good Job!” all the time.  This article explains how using “good job!”, and other equivalent positive reinforcements, will make my child into a dependent, timid, apathetic praise junkie with no internal moral compass. And I’ll steal his joy.  Triple Argh!!!

Since I read this, I’ve been paying attention to how often I say “Good Job!”

I say it a lot.

Now I am internally cringing whenever I say it.  As opposed to actually not saying it.  Haven’t managed that yet….

At least the guy provided some options for what else we SHOULD be saying.  I posted them here for those of you pressed for time (and so I can reference them easily as I try to go in to “Good Job!” recovery):

And what can we say when kids just do something impressive? Consider three possible responses:

* Say nothing. Some people insist a helpful act must be “reinforced” because, secretly or unconsciously, they believe it was a fluke. If children are basically evil, then they have to be given an artificial reason for being nice (namely, to get a verbal reward). But if that cynicism is unfounded – and a lot of research suggests that it is – then praise may not be necessary.

* Say what you saw. A simple, evaluation-free statement (“You put your shoes on by yourself” or even just “You did it”) tells your child that you noticed. It also lets her take pride in what she did. In other cases, a more elaborate description may make sense. If your child draws a picture, you might provide feedback – not judgment – about what you noticed: “This mountain is huge!” “Boy, you sure used a lot of purple today!”

If a child does something caring or generous, you might gently draw his attention to the effect of his action on the other person: “Look at Abigail’s face! She seems pretty happy now that you gave her some of your snack.” This is completely different from praise, where the emphasis is on how you feel about her sharing

* Talk less, ask more. Even better than descriptions are questions. Why tell him what part of his drawing impressed you when you can ask him what he likes best about it? Asking “What was the hardest part to draw?” or “How did you figure out how to make the feet the right size?” is likely to nourish his interest in drawing. Saying “Good job!”, as we’ve seen, may have exactly the opposite effect.

This doesn’t mean that all compliments, all thank-you’s, all expressions of delight are harmful…….. The good news is that you don’t have to evaluate in order to encourage.

Copyright © 2001 by Alfie Kohn.

Have any of you discovered a parenting practice you found out you shouldn’t be doing?  I’d love to hear about it (maybe I need to stop doing it too…)  Good luck on your habit breaking!

Related posts:

You might want to read this too:

  • This post was singularly original...wander at will!