Wednesday, February 21, 2007

How Not To Talk To Your Kids - Part 7 (tips on effective praise, con't)

From Ash:

Another post on "praise tips" – and I'll do one more, a short one after this (I was hoping this would be the last one, but it got long). After that, we'll go back to discussing other interesting aspects of praise, self-esteem, and other related issues.

9. Timing is Everything

I don't think I've ever heard a parent consider the timing of praise – I know I didn't, at least, not consciously – but the studies show it's a very big issue.

In one of Po's and my favorite studies, college students were given a video game to play. While they were playing, a research would come in to praise them for how well they were doing. Once the researcher had done that, immediately, the students wouldn't play as well. There had been previous studies that had found similar results, and some of those had put forth a theory that once you've achieved some praise, you don't put quite as much effort into something; that's why you don't do as well. That idea has been supported in other studies; however, in this one, done by scholars including Roy Baumeister, they figured out a way to test that part of the theory as well.

And what they found was that the college students were trying just as hard after they'd received the praise – they were just not doing as well. After ruling out most of the other explanations for why that could be, Dr. Baumeister's team eventually came to conclude that the mere act of praise made the students more self-conscious of themselves, more aware that they were being watched and judged. And that heightened self-awareness meant they concentrated less on the task, and more on the others' judgment – the end result being that they didn't perform as well, post-praise.

It's amazing to me how little it takes for people to start worry about image-maintenance. But this is a "tips" post, so let's consider how to apply this research when working with your kids.

Simply put – please hold your applause until the very end.

Don't interrupt a kid who's working really hard to tell him, "You're working hard." Don't cheer, "Way to go, Suzie! We love you!" when she made the first basket at the free-throw line and still has another one to go.

Wait til they're finished, then praise. Interrupting them in the middle will make them concentrate on your opinion, rather than what they need to focus on.

10. Avoid Praising in Public

I mentioned before about how praise is often mis-used to control other's behavior, and how that can backfire. But even if that isn't what's going on, be very careful giving praise in public.

Students are enormously self-conscious, and they're very concerned that praise may make them a target – be it a target for ridicule, or relying on his notes instead of taking your own. If college students are given the opportunity to be singled out in class for a high grade, studies say they'd rather not be. They'd like to know they got the highest grade, but they don't necessarily want anyone else to know.

It's to the point that those who desire public praise – that starts bringing in concerns of narcissism.

11. Don't Praise To Avoid Giving Criticism or Addressing Failure

"Kids can take criticism," said Dr. Baumeister. They like feedback. You don't have to be mean. But you can be truthful.

So for parents who say, "So, you lost the soccer game, you're a good reader," that's a Bad Idea: you're teaching the children that they should only do that which comes easy for them. And that being good at something is all that is important to you.

But beyond that, I think that one of the most powerful comments I read or heard while we were researching praise was Dr. Jennifer Crocker's observation that if you only talk in terms of praise, and never address mistakes or failure, you're sending a message that failure is so terrible, that you can't even acknowledge it. But life's about learning from mistakes.

I was surfing through some of the discussion boards on the New York piece, and I saw that one mom had decided to do some sort of extreme form of positive reinforcement. She only pays attention to what her kids do that she likes; she simply pretends the other stuff never happened and ignores it entirely. She says it's working, but how can a child grow, if he believes he's supposed to never make mistakes or that the appropriate response to them is to pretend them out of existence?

One more "tips" to come . . . .

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ash - I am not able to sign on with my own name, hence the anonymous: I hope my timing is correct and I am not interrupting this terrific flow that you are presenting; I join you and Bo in the favorite department re: the college kids and interruption. Please throw as much of this at us as you can. Much gratitude, Serena

4:58 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The example about the mother just paying attention to her childrens positive sides and ignoring the bad sides is unsettling to me. The origin of this thinking is management theory or some close relative and is regarded as great management behaviour in settings where all parties are self-motivated and proactively finds relevant information for their own future trajectories.

To just transfer this behaviour to parent-child interaction tells me that the parent has thrown out the baby with the bathwater and I don't think her child will thank her when he or she grows up.

As far as I'm concerned, the loss of human authenticity is the core of the problem here. There can of course be many reasons for such a loss.

Hmmm... there is probably some really easy way to rediscover basic human authenticity, should you lose it somehow, there is just no easy way to tell that way from some bogus recipy when presented with more than one option. And today there just might be an overabundance of bogus recipies...

12:01 PM  

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