Using praise and rewards to get our children to behave how we want may seem harmless, even positive. However, using praise to motivate behaviour can send a dangerous message to our children.
Praise and motivation
Long term, you probably want an intrinsically motivated child. Intrinsic motivation means doing things because we want to do them for their own sake, or interest. An extrinsically motivated looks someone else to rewards their actions. They seek the highest salary, and struggle to motivate themselves to anything that doesn’t result in a reward for them. They struggle to find satisfaction in tasks, or to pursue learning out of interest or enjoyment. Extrinsic motivation can stifle curiosity, undermine exploration, and makes play, a fundamental biological state, seem pointless! So, it is important to think carefully about how you nurture a child and their motivation! How we talk to our children can make a huge difference to their future motivation.
Read more in our article Praise: a problematic behaviour management strategy
The problem with extrinsic motivation
Offering rewards for certain behaviours can mean that your child comes to expect a reward for doing things and doesn’t feel satisfied for just doing a job well. Giving children gifts is absolutely fine but they need to be free of any strings or expectations.
Pocket money is a really good example here.
Scenario 1: you give your child pocket money on condition that they do certain jobs around the house. This unwittingly sends the message that helping out at home is only worth doing for a reward.
Scenario 2: Pocket money offered with no strings attached teaches children about handling and managing money, saving for things and responsibility. These are all valuable lessons in their own right. Household jobs become an expected part of daily family life because all members of the family work together. Chores are not tied to extrinsic reward. The reward for doing the chores is internal; I feel good about being part of a family & playing my role. See the difference?
Praise is a type of reward. Children who are constantly seeking praise tie their self-worth to how others view them and look for external validation. Children who are internally proud of themselves when they try hard, or master a new skill can build a much stronger sense of self-esteem. They don’t need other people’s praise to feel like they are valuable, important human beings. All children really need is someone to love them unconditionally and give them focused attention. This meets their human need for recognition. Showing an interest in your child’s life and spending time with them is what they crave far more than a ‘good job.’
Read more in our article Recognition: motivate your child without praise
Top tips for effective praise
So, where do you go from here? Try out my top tips below and expect to notice how often you say ‘well done’ – I seem to constantly say it without thinking! You can always add to it and tell them what you’re praising them for. That is definitely a step in the right direction!!
Ditch the ‘well done’ and ‘good girl/boy’ and replace it with thank you instead:
“Thank you for putting the books back on the shelf, that really helps to keep the house tidy.”
Be specific. Tell your child EXACTLY what pleased you:
“I’m impressed that you put your pyjamas into the washing basket this morning.”
Say what you see. Give your child your undivided attention. Comment on what they’re doing without adding a value judgment:
“You’ve built a really tall tower of red bricks with a blue brick right at the top.”
Show interest in what they’re doing and ask questions:
“Tell me about that picture you’ve drawn.”
Notice and comment on effort rather than outcome:
“You tried so hard to tie your shoelaces and didn’t give up!”
Some of these ways of praising can feel pretty unnatural when you’re first starting out but stick with it. You’re helping your child to build a secure sense of self esteem, and to desire to help others without thinking “what’s in it for me?”
Lauren Partington – BabyCalm and ToddlerCalm consultant- CalmFamily York & North Yorkshire
Lauren was born and raised in South Africa before moving to York to attend university; where she fell in love with the city (and her now husband). After almost a decade as a primary school teacher, Lauren left education of one kind and moved into another. Now a certified CalmFamily parenting consultant and owner of ‘Extraordinary [Ordinary] Mum’, Lauren supports mothers find their calm, understand their children and build a life based on strong, positive principles. She’s the proud mother to two feisty children who have taught her what the parenting books never could… what being a mother really means.Recommend0 recommendationsPublished in