Praise comes pretty naturally to many people, including those who work with children. We never want kids to become discouraged from trying things and then feeling bad about the outcome, so we do a lot to make sure sure that they don’t. That includes lots of non-specific praise and, sometimes, empty words.
My husband and I grew up in similar household situations (Dad a teacher, Mom stayed at home and did child development teaching like ECFE and daycare). Our income bracket was about the same. But we talk alot about different paths we took in life, and many times we come back to the idea of praise and pushing. Both sets of parents loved us completely and fully, and wanted us to live well and thrive. Both sets of parents were supportive and loving, and gave us what we needed. We both believe that we have become good and strong people because of strong upbringing. The item of note, though is this: when it came to praising us, Hubster’s parents were very open with their praise, and mine were more reserved. My parents pushed me to work really hard, and Hubster’s parents made it very clear that they just wanted him to be content and happy. That’s not a fault of either side, and it certainly isn’t to say that my parents didn’t want me to be happy and content, or that his parents didn’t want to push him hard. We just came away hearing different things: loud and clear.
Our educational paths couldn’t have been more different – I went the “traditional” route- undergrad right after high school, Masters in my mid twenties. Hubster took a couple of years of college, then backpacked around Europe a few times, taught Karate for 7 years, and completed his undergrad degree at the age of 40. We both have some longing for what the other person did, but we know this – that praise and pushing had much to do with our paths in life.
And now, we have to be clear on how we approach praise and how we push our son. Our praise is specific and clear: “You climbed the stairs all by yourself!” Our attitudes positive: “You really pet the kitty nicely! You didn’t try to rip his fur off!” Our discipline straightforward: “No, honey – we don’t HIT the muffin, we EAT the muffin.” (yes, these are all real examples.)
How does this translate to you and your students? As educators, we cannot praise kids for mediocrity or normal practices – after all, they know the difference, and they will fall hard when they don’t succeed at everything on the first try. We can praise their learning process, not necessarily the outcome. And we can offer specific praise for what the student has accomplished.
This article has some great points about how kids translate praise. My hope is that as a parent and as an educator, my pushing and praising is always out of love, care, and authenticity – just as mine and my husband’s was.