Sunday, August 9, 2009

Encouragement vs Praise Update

(Originally posted at Rational Jenn)

As I've been paying close attention to my encouraging words this week, it occurred to me that there is one scenario where it is really tempting to cross that line from encouragement to praise. I don't often do it, but the temptation is there.

The situation where this happens for me is when the kids are successful at or really enjoying something that I personally highly value.

When Ryan digs a huge hole in the sandbox, is super proud of his efforts, and wants me to acknowledge them, it's quite easy for me to say encouraging/acknowledging things, such as "Wow! You did it!" or "You sure worked hard on that hole." I am not in danger of cheerleading here, mostly because, well, big holes in the sand just don't excite me all that much. A proud kid--yes, that is exciting. Holes, notsomuch.

But when Ryan picks up a book and sounds out some words and wants me to acknowledge his accomplishment . . . well, sometimes it's hard not to jump up and down with my own excitement and shout "He can read, he can read, oh I'm so glad that he can read!"

That's not to say I don't share my enthusiasm with him. And I think it's just fine for him to see that I get more excited about reading than big holes. But it's a time when I really need to think carefully about the words I say to him, because, in my excitement, I don't want to inadvertently rob him of the feeling of pride he has in his accomplishment, and I don't want to give him the idea that he should look to me for cues about how he should feel about it. Or that he should do this thing solely because it makes me happy.

So I will say "Wow! You did it!" or "You're really getting the hang of this reading thing! That's so cool!" And smile big and give him a hug. But then I will force myself to back away from him, lest my enthusiasm become smothering and siphon off all of the fun he's having. Because I know that if he is reading because he truly wants to--and not because he knows that I want him to--then he is much more likely to keep it up. I do believe that internal motivation (when it comes from a place of rational self-interest) is more effective and satisfying! than any motivation system that I might devise.

Beth recently remarked in this post that ". . . I have to constantly remind myself that it is important for me not to care more than he [her son] does about his values." I've been thinking about this remark for the last couple of weeks, and it is a very astute observation. And I think Encouragement vs Praise is related.

At this point in his life, I may care more than Ryan does about his acquisition of reading skills. In fact, I probably do care more than he does. But since I want him to care about reading some day (and he is getting there, obviously), AND since I want him to be a first-handed valuer in general, I need to take care not to insert myself between him and this value that he is just beginning to appreciate.

It's certainly a tricky line to walk. Especially because these kids really do pay attention to every single thing we do and say! As far as reading goes, it certainly helped that I identified that Ryan does want to know what words say--but he doesn't want to take the time to figure them out independently. Since he is motivated to know what they say, then gently withdrawing my actions away from him (by not reading words I think he is capable of figuring out on his own), I am getting out of his way. And I must be careful not to undo all of my excellent analysis and work by working myself up into a Cheerleader Parent when he does accomplish any sort of reading task.


Stay tuned for another PD Tool Card tomorrow!

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