Someone asked me why I am against praise… what’s wrong with showing someone you are proud of them?
Not praising doesn’t mean that you never show someone you are proud of them. It just means that you put the emphasis on them being proud of themselves, and doing things for themselves, instead of doing things to make others happy or proud. Like discipline and punishment, it is about external motivation vs internal motivation. Like punishment, praise only works in the short-term, it ultimately fails and does harm long-term.
I could write so much about it but I think there are great articles already written that say it all… Here is one by Alfie Kohn “Five Reasons to stop saying “Good Job!” and here is another on the Natural Child Project called Rewards and Praise: The Poisoned Carrot… go ahead and read them! I’ll wait 🙂
So now, what is wrong with saying “good boy!” or “good job!” or when a baby does something new, or a child draws a picture, or rides his bike?
Basically it’s that it has the opposite effect that parents want it to have, it isn’t helping them accomplish new things or feel better about themselves. It is focusing on the outcome instead of on the effort. Children come to expect it and do things for a reward or praise instead of just doing it. Alfie Kohn’s article some great suggestions on what can be said instead…
So instead of writing on about why I don’t agree with praise, I thought I would give a personal example…
Personally I don’t deal well with manipulation, I know that, and if someone tries to manipulate me, it just makes me want to do the opposite. I think it is a normal reaction that many people have.
As you may know, I have been working on decluttering our house and I am finally getting into a routine to keep the house manageable and easier to clean.
When my mom comes into my house, every.single.time says “wow! it’s so clean here!” it makes my toes curl. I often answer, “yeah… so?” and deep down I feel like making sure that my house is messy before her next visit.
Why does she say it? To compliment me a job well done? isn’t that weird? Why is she so surprised or happy that my house is clean? Does she think that pointing out that my house is clean now will affect how I keep it in the future? Does a clean house reflect who we are?
When I really thought about it I understood that I was reacting to her comment, her praise, in the same way I react to manipulation. I want to dig my heels in and do the opposite. When she says “wow, it’s clean in here” I hear her say that she was expecting to walk into a messy house and that comment, that praise, is her saying that she is pleased.
Her praise is about her, not me. She is making a judgement on the state of my house and pointing it out as being good.
That is what praise is… it’s about that proverbial sugar-coated carrot that is put up to keep you on the right track.
But, you see, under that sugar-coating there is a rotten carrot underneath.
So what could she say instead? Actually, I would rather she say nothing at all. Maybe she could ask for a cup of tea? It would mean a lot more to me.
I just wanted to Thanks. This post and the others like it have helped to reaffirm some of my choices and given me pause to re-evaulate some others. I appreciate the time you take to share the how’s & why’s. Thanks again, Shannon
I never thought about it until I read Becky Baily’s Easy to Love, Difficult to Discipline. Instead of praise she encourages noticing. We all just want to be noticed. And I like it, it’s so much more concrete to say “you did THIS” instead of “good job”.
I totally understand your reaction to you mother’s compliments, with mine it’s praise related to weight. If I order a salad at a restaurant “you’re being so good!” Or if it’s noticeable that I’ve been working out “You look so great! What are you doing?!” She doesn’t compliment my appearance otherwise, which makes her statements feel all the more manipulative. Little does she realize that these “compliments” make me want to put on 50 lb. just to spite her.
Thanks for a great post. I’ve paid more attention to the people around me and it’s funny how many times you hear “good job!” on the playground. As an adult I still sometimes feel that need to do something for the sake of a positive reaction from my parents. I hope with my girl things will be different.