Sunday, September 21, 2014


A friend of mine shared this link in which Alfie Kohn discusses the idea that verbal praise replaces the satisfaction of task completed for a child. While interesting, it does not ring true for me as a parent. It does, however get me thinking about the concept of praise.

There are a few different ways to praise. One way is to praise only for success. The downside to this is that the child may come to believe that she is only loved when she is successful and that her parent's love is conditional.

In a game in which no one can
win, everyone loses.
Another concept is to praise effort, but that the idea of "good job trying really hard" smacks of "you're not good enough to succeed, but you gave it your best, and that's good," so that doesn't seem like a great strategy either.

Let's go back to what the goal is. There are two goals as I see it here: one goal is that the Koalid will grow up happy. The other is the that the Koalid will grow up to be successful in her chosen field of endeavor.

Knowing that she is loved unconditionally and that we, her parents, will always be here for her as long as we draw breath is very important to being happy. But love and esteem are different concepts. If the Koalid turns out to be a failure at everything she tries and becomes a lazy bum, I will still love her, but I will not respect her. I want her never to doubt my love and support, but I feel that there is nothing wrong with her feeling that she needs to earn my esteem.

Not necessary for love, but would
earn esteem.
This does not mean that I expect her to win a Nobel Prize before she is old enough to drink. I will be proud at every achievement. When she learns to walk, she will earn my esteem. When she learns to multiply, she will earn my esteem. When she scores the winning touchdown before heading home to work on her award winning science fair project in which she reveals the cure for cancer, she will earn my esteem.

There will be times when I may say to her "You know I love you, I will always love you, and I will always be here for you, but you really blew it this time." And this brings me to the strategy I believe I will employ: explicitly telling her often that I love her and will be there for her so long as I can, but also letting her know that while my love is unconditional, my praise is not.

This may seem a bit harsh, but one thing I have seen has a theme in biographies is that many successful people have done so seeking the esteem of a parent, usually a father. I have no intention of being a harsh or distant figure, but I also do not want to lead her to believe that life is so simple that all she has to do is show up.

Life is hard, success takes work, and teaching her anything different is doing a great disservice.