Your child manages to complete a particularly difficult task and you applaud her with “Good Job”!
Your toddler shares her snack with her friends and you want to positively reinforce this good behavior so you toss out a “Good Job”!
We read plenty of books that warn us against using punishments and spankings to model behavior so we instantly rely on a “Good Job” for positively reinforcing any example of good behavior or accomplishing a worthy task. Seems easy enough, right?
But here’s the question we really need to ask ourselves. How much different is this kind of positive reinforcement from a punishment where we are letting our children know that a certain kind of behavior is good because it has our approval and we got them to comply with our wishes?
What we’re really doing is manipulating our children by telling them that their good behavior will win them applause because we as adults approve of it, rather than them understanding the reason behind why their behavior was considered good.
Sure it will produce results at first, but we’re not really working with kids here. A better approach is to involve them in conversations about what kind of behavior makes living easy and fun and what kind of behavior doesn’t.
Excessive applause kills creativity and risk taking abilities. Research shows that when kids were praised with a “Good Job” or similar phrases for their creativity, they were less likely to take risks in an effort to avoid mistakes and get the same kind of praise for the next time.
Risk taking is so important for any creative activity. And in our efforts to praise the child’s creativity, we’re actually making sure he doesn’t take any more risks for a repeat performance.
Ever wondered what are the child’s own thoughts and emotions at the end of a good behavior or a good show? He may or may not be pleased with the outcome. But in our bid to praise him, we take the away the chance for him to feel for himself. We are diluting their joy if they start looking at us to for approval, rather than feeling for themselves!
Another risk we run while praising our children inappropriately is the risk of them losing interest in the task or behavior at hand when we withdraw our attention.
What we do need to do instead is the following:
- For you it won’t be an easy habit to break but do it. Stop praising your child because you think that’s what you need to say for reinforcing a good habit in your child
- Instead, start talking about the effects of good behavior. Eg: Sharing your snack with Anya made her happy? And just leave it at that. Your child will evaluate if the atmosphere became more genial after the sharing episode, or whether he liked the act of sharing because it made playing with Anya more fun.
- At a loss of what to say when your child has accomplished something good? Start sportscasting. Simply put it means just repeat what you saw. “You ate without spilling on the floor” or “You learnt how to put on the shoes by yourself”. This shows the child that you noticed rather than telling him to repeat the performance because it will make you happy or your job more convenient.
- Questions are a great way to allow your child to find the right feeling for their accomplishments. “How did you make the circle the right size”? “Was it difficult to color inside the circle”?
And what about all the delightful thank you’s and compliments that you genuinely want to give your child? They aren’t harmful! You just need to question your motive behind saying them to your child. That’s all!