“Wow! That’s really good jumping!”
“Ugh, I’m on a trampoline don’t you know? It’s not hard.”
Those awkward moments when your kids aren’t used to being praised and then someone praises them and they’re all like what on earth are you on about? True story.
Whenever I make a comment that suggests that praising kids is not all that great, I get many people telling me how praise is good. How much kids like it and need it. How it’s encouraging and motivating.
I honestly believe that it’s not the praise they like, but simply being noticed. I really feel like if all children knew they could be acknowledged without being praised, they would say, ‘Please don’t praise me’.
Maybe they would tell us something like this…
Please don’t praise me, it’s a judgment.
When you tell me something I have done is ‘good’, that is a judgement. Yes, it’s a positive judgement, but still a judgment. I don’t need you to judge me as worthy or unworthy. I just need you to see me, to notice me. I’m not trying to live up to your standards. I just want to be me, and accepted for that.
Please don’t praise me, because then I feel like I can’t disappoint you.
If I am always ‘good’ and ‘brave’ and ‘kind’ and ‘nice’ and a ‘winner’, I feel like I have to keep living up to your standards. I have to keep being the person you think I am. And what if I’m not? What if some days I feel grumpy? What if I feel scared? Am I no longer ‘good’? Am I a disappointment? How can I ever tell you how I really feel when it might disappoint you? That’s too risky.
Please don’t praise me, I feel like your love is conditional.
When you praise me I feel like you are seeing only my achievements and not the real me. I feel as though I must earn your love through what I do and how I behave. I feel like I have to keep doing more and more and better and better for you to notice me.
“When children feel they must keep doing impressive things so their parents will be proud of them, their acceptance of themselves may become equally conditional.” –Alfie Kohn
Please don’t praise me, it kills my motivation.
When I am working hard at something, I am doing it for me. I am intrinsically motivated to explore and discover the world. When you praise me for my natural curiosity, you dampen that motivation. No longer am I motivated solely by my own desire, but also to please you. I also start to need praise. I no longer trust in my own decisions and judgement.
Please don’t praise me, it steals my joy.
When I run to you and show you something I have done, with joy on my face and excitement at my own capabilities, please don’t praise me. You take a little of my joy by making it about you. Your judgement. Your feelings.
Just see me.
Please don’t praise me, it feels like control.
When I am ‘good’ because I do the things you want me to do, it feels like control and pressure. I know you sometimes use those words to ‘encourage’ me. I don’t need to be constantly encouraged to be a ‘good’ person. I need you to know that I already am.
Please don’t praise me, that’s not what I need.
All I need is for you to see the real me. All I need is to feel connected to you. All I need is for you to share in my joy and accomplishments. All I need is an authentic relationship, not one based on control.
Children don’t need our praise. They need our unconditional love and acceptance.
I know the praise habit is hard to kick. This post has some ideas about what to say/do instead.