Hudson Valley Parent

November 2013

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Praising children: Too much of a good thing? M aintaining indicate that emphasizing moderation is praise or special privileges helpful in guidcan be counterproductive. ing us with many aspects 'What do I get if I do it?' of life, including the praise Rewards may even we sometimes heap upon destroy intrinsic motivaour children. A generation tion. The fascination with ago, disciplining children the task may vanish and through positive reinforceeventually the child won't ment became a popular perform the task unless alternative to punishment. there is some reward at Instead of being spanked Child stake. Other tasks will be or sent to his room, a child Behavior looked at in this way, as was rewarded for correct well, developing in the behavior. But research child a "what do I get if I shows that positive reinforcement do it" mentality. Unwittingly, we may alone does not help a child internalize undermine interest in reading, thinkappropriate behavior any more than ing and creating just by rewarding or does punishment. continuously praising. British educator A.S. Neill has said, Intrinsic motivation "It is tantamount to declaring that the Children naturally seek out activiactivity is not worth doing for its own ties and situations that interest them sake." and allow them to demonstrate comRewards may encourage children to petence. Young children don't have to focus more on the reward than on the be rewarded to learn new words, ideas task itself – to do it as quickly as posor skills. In fact, children who are intrinsically motivated (doing something sible, with as little effort and creativity as possible. This could be the reason for the joy of doing it or because they studies find that the more children feel it's valuable) are likely to perform think about a reward, the more likely higher quality and more creative they are to choose the easiest possiwork or be better behaved than those ble task. They want the toy, not the motivated by the idea of a reward or challenge. praise. According to researchers, intrinWatch a year-old infant begin to sic motivation is related not only to master the art of walking: she pulls achievement but also to self-esteem, herself up, falls, does it again, and cognitive competence (how a child takes a step. She falls continuousfeels about her skills), and a child's ly, but keeps persevering until she sense of control over this environment. masters it, usually with a gleeful smile. These are areas in a child's developThe joy of mastery is evident as a ment we are all trying to enhance, not reward in and of itself — no external limit. praise is necessary. Praise the effort Contrary to B.F. Skinner's theory Praise and reinforcement do have a of positive reinforcement, which place in any parent's repertoire of dissuggests that children will perform ciplinary or motivational tools for their better when they expect to get children. Children should be praised something for it, a number of studies PAUL SCHWARTZ 8 Hudson Valley Parent n November 2013 Children should be praised for their effort rather than the product of their accomplishments. for their effort rather than the product of their accomplishments. Children who are praised for their efforts persevere when faced with challenging or difficult tasks. They don't give up as easily as others. These children in later years embody the work ethic, "it's not whether you win or lose that's important, it's how you play the game". Use moderation By the time a child reaches adolescence, he has probably heard "good job" no less than 5,000 times for anything and everything from putting on his underwear to putting a ball in the basket in his driveway. By all means praise your children, but first let them know the specific reason why they are being praised and use what's often called variable reinforcement. Don't praise or reward continuously — too much praise diminishes the impact and effectiveness of the attention and words. Using the same words like "good job" again and again also reduces the impact they might have on the child and also increases the probability that your child will ignore them. Praise and rewards probably have the most utility of any motivational, disciplinary, or esteem building techniques that a parent can use. The key to success is using them correctly. Keep it all in moderation! Paul Schwartz, PhD., is a professor of psychology and education at Mount Saint Mary College.

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