We all want to praise children for doing good things. But not all praise is created equal. The following points address how to effectively praise children.
1. If you would not use the same praise to an adult, resist using it with a young person.
2. Eliminate starting with, “I’m so pleased that….” The inference is that the youngster’s motivation is to please YOU.
Here is an alternative to praise: acknowledgments. They are more effective than praise and accomplish what you want without praise’s disadvantage.
(Please keep in mind that I am NOT suggesting NEVER praise children; just keep it to a minimum and acknowledge more.)
Saying, “I’m so proud of you for doing your work” implies that the student is doing the work to please you. “I see you did your work” acknowledges without your judgment or evaluation. IT IS THE RECOGNITION THAT YOUNG PEOPLE (really everyone) WANT MORE THAN PRAISE.
When to Praise Children
If a student is already acting on Level D (see the Levels of Development for more information), then praise is unnecessary and counterproductive. If you do, you will never know if, in the future, the youngster is acting to please you (Level C EXTERNAL motivation) or because it is the right thing to do (Level D INTERNAL motivation).
You can never know another person’s motivation with certainty. Relating one’s motivation perhaps is necessary if you are writing a novel or solving a crime. However, assuming someone’s motivation in real life is often a guessing game and can lead to wrong conclusions. A typical example is when a young person does not follow the adult’s directive and the adult assumes the youngster is disobedient. But the young person had no intention of disobeying; the kid’s frustration directed the action.
Resist the temptation of guessing someone’s motivation. Instead, explain the difference between “external motivation” (Level C) and “internal motivation” (Level D) so the young can differentiate and choose their motivation.
Whether the adult asks a child to pick up the trash and the youngster does (EXTERNAL motivation) or if the young person takes the initiative to pick up the trash without being asked (INTERNAL motivation), the BEHAVIOR is identical; the trash has been picked up. The difference is in the MOTIVATION.
Being able to articulate the difference between “external” and “internal” motivation is empowering and increases both choice and reflection.