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Updated: January 5, 2014 17:27 IST

The power of praise

FARIDA RAJ
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Every child yearns for praise and encouragement in word or gesture
Every child yearns for praise and encouragement in word or gesture

A word of praise, especially from parents, goes a long way towards building a child’s self-esteem

Invited to attend the annual day function of a kindergarten and primary school in Secunderabad, I happened to sit alongside the principal, an exceptional educationist. Just then, a girl, aged around four, walked into the room holding a sheet of paper. She gave it to the principal who praised the child for such a beautiful drawing. To me, it seemed there were merely some lines and a blob of paint in the middle. The child, with a sparkle in her eyes and a glow on her face walked out of the room. Answering the question in my eyes, the principal told me that the little girl was shy and it was very difficult to motivate her to participate in classroom activities. She needed praise to gain confidence and take part in group activities. The principal elaborated, “Praise makes a child feel good about herself”. She will not only have a good notion of herself, but will also learn better. What she said has remained with me and I use it as a strategy to motivate children who seem disinterested both in classwork and play — children who sit passively waiting for that glow of approval!

According to Skinner, the well-known American psychologist, praise encourages us to better our performance and take risks that benefit our lives. It helps us take steps towards achievement. At any stage, praise received or given can change our lives and the lives of those around us. In children, the turnabout can be amazing. I remember the time when I used to teach eight-year-olds. I always praised them a lot for their efforts and small achievements. Then, one year, I had a boy in my class who was very difficult to manage. I ignored his bad behaviour and praised him whenever he behaved well. In just a matter of 15 days, the change in his behaviour was astounding. He stopped being a nuisance. All he wanted was to be treated like the rest of the children in the class!

The question most parents and adults ask is when and how to praise. Counsellors and professionals in the field of mental health believe that praise is more effective when it is specific and honest. Being specific helps a child understand exactly why he is being praised. If he is praised for everything, then there is a possibility that he will never work hard enough or set his sights on a particular goal. Praise is also likely to lose its impact if it is vague, for instance, when a child is praised though he has not put in any effort or accomplished anything. Be honest. Children and youth can tell when praise is genuine. You do not always have to use words of praise — a thumbs-up sign, a smile, a wink or even a nod will work wonders.

Praise needs to be genuine, sincere and focussed on your child’s effort and not necessarily on the outcome. For example, praise and encourage your child for going to cricket practice, working hard on improving his skill and facing new challenges, instead of doing so only when he wins. When praise acknowledges the processes of completing an activity or solving a problem, it can contribute to a child becoming a confident, competent and responsible grown-up. On the other hand, insincere or too much praise can be detrimental as it will lead the child to an inaccurate sense of his strengths and limitations.

Some parents believe that if they praise too much or too often, their child will become conceited or overconfident. Your child may become so if you are insincere in your praise. This can hinder his growth because he has no way of knowing what he can improve on or what he should do to please you. Children are not dependent on praise to feel good. They actually repeat behaviour that earns praise.

It is important to remember that for some children the more praise they receive, the more they rely on adult evaluation instead of forming their own judgment.

Just as praise must be specific, it should also be immediate. Do not wait for a particular time or opportunity to praise. The glow of approval fades faster, particularly with small children. Children never stop yearning for praise, especially from their parents. There nobody on earth that children yearn to please and impress more than their parents.

Praise plays a vital in our lives and more so in the lives of our children. It nurtures their self-esteem and confidence. Therefore, is it not better to give your child too much praise than too little?

The writer is a Remedial Educator. Email: rajfarida@gmail.com

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