Praise vs encouragement- montessori parenting dilemma

Ever since my first module with educational psychology, I find reading up on experiments on conditioning and reinforcement, fascinating. And naturally, my spirit is a positive cheerleader. I love dishing out praise easily. So believe me, this post and the contents that I’ve been trying to follow is not too easy.

At about 2 years of age, V started excellent focus in her work. And I realized, I wasn’t needed to say , ‘Wow!’ Because, her eyes would light up when she finished the task, before the Wow! That is when I learnt that the sensitive periods and work provide enough intrinsic motivation without need for my empty words.

Why I try to avoid “Good jobs!”

  • Words of praise become great extrinsic motivators. This is great for people who need an external push. But with children who are already internally motivated, this is not necessary at all.
  • The joy and accomplishment a child feels on completion of a task is taken away when praise is given precedence. Maria Montessori believed that allowing a child to follow his own motivation led to deeper learning and better psychological well-being.
  • External praise can actually lower performance. It has been seen that praise when related to performance can cause pressure, whereas encouragement is empowering.
  • Lastly, too many “good jobs!” can create a praise junkie. It may create children who are unwilling to do work without the validation of an adult.

What one can do instead

1. Encouragement needs to be sincere and specific. So, I describe what Isaw and use one word to sum it up. Focus on the process more than the product.
Example – I see you helped me clean the table. Thankyou. It is spotless now.
Or, I noticed you finished the puzzle. I’m so excited for you!

2. When V asks my opinion, I do not hesitate to ask a question back.
Example– How do you feel? Do you feel proud of your work?

3. When she asks me what I think, I give just that. Realistic feedback.
Example – when V asks me how her painting looks, I first describe it. I see you have used a lot of yellow and blue. I find that colourful.
I have noticed that I statements help me stick to descriptions over you-statements that make it a judgement.

4. No talking down.
This is a no-brainer if one is already following montessori parenting.
Example– Thankyou for getting me water. Instead of, Good job! How smart of you to get water!

5. Non verbal cues
Ronan Keating was right when he crooned, You say it best! Simple actions like eye contact, focus on the child, observing her or noticing the effort she puts in go a long way.

This may seem overwhelming, but when I find myself struggling for the right words, all I tell V is, “Yay, you did it!” And that is more than enough for her to acknowledge her own effort and take pride in her work.

BALANCE IS KEY

V loves it when I use words like “fantastic” or “Stupendous!” But she is also truly happy, when I notice the effort she puts in and I reiterate her own thoughts and confidence. Like everything in life, balance is key. Do not treat praise like water and dish it out every hour. Neither must one feel the need to hold back on excitement when you genuinely feel it. It is okay to praise a child as long as more encouragement is given. Lastly, every child is different and you know yours best. Do what is best for both of you.
Whatever we follow, I hope we raise happy individuals with a strong inner compass.

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