In recent years the self esteem movement has come under fire especially in relation to verbal rewards – ' Praise'. Alfie Kohn has just written a summary of his approach to praise and how it differs from both that of social conservatives and Carol Dweck.
He takes issue with the idea that one should praise ' effort ' rather than ability . Carol Dweck showed how helping kids to acquire a growth mindset, - that by making an effort we can succeed - rather than praising their ability, we can help them be successful.
'Praising kids' efforts may be counterproductive as it may signal that they have to try very hard because they are not very good at what they are doing. It may communicate that they are not really capable and therefore unlikely to succeed at future tasks. For this reason others have suggested praising ' ability' which is supposed to enhance one's feeling of competence. This is also problematic. As Carol Dweck has shown ,that when kids attribute success or failure to something that is outside their control, such as a ' fixed' level of ability, they are discouraged from taking responsibility for working to improve their performance. It may be most sensible to avoid casting praise as a comment on either effort or ability.' -AK
What should we do instead of praise. ? To answer this we must revisit our parenting goals. We want our kids to be self directed and act in an autonomous way, self assess and evaluate the impact they have on others and the environment, find meaning and enjoyment in what they are doing, focus more on the process and less on achievement, focus on their feelings – the intrinsic reward rather than achievement and pleasing others. We also want them to be supportive of others and not to manipulate them with praise to get what they want or show approval to others who jump through their hoops.
The way to go is to use ' declarative language ' just describing what we saw and then pausing. This gives the kid time to reflect on what you have noticed and also experience some inner pride or other feelings for eg. satisfaction. We can then ask open ended questions – how did you feel about what you did ? what were you thinking about when you drew the dog? What made you decide to end the essay that way ?
'These comments and questions help a kid focus his attention on his feelings and thoughts rather than on his accomplishments. He is talking about what he did and self assessing. By emphasizing the process rather than the product, the kid will realize that it's the trying that counts.' Myrna Shure
By focusing more on achievement parents put a full stop on life, when we focus on the process we focus on life and the new challenges it presents us.