The effects of constant praise
Sarah Speed is clinging to sanity by publishing unsolicited rants much to the relief of her friends and family who are tired of listening to them. Sarah is a mother of two children: a daughter, McKenna, 3; and son, Caleb, 9 months. One is as sarcastic as she is and one is working hard to get there. She writes from Springettsbury Township where her husband is constantly mowing the lawn to stay out of the way of his wife’s latest crafting endeavor.
We recently skipped McKenna’s second parent teacher conference of the year. Yup, she’s three…and we have parent-teacher conferences.
I love her school, the teachers are amazing, it provides just the right balance of structure and freedom, and they do everything they can to really make it feel like a real school, including parent-teacher conferences.
We skipped this last conference because McKenna was home sick, so rather than squatting on tiny wooden chairs and trying to simultaneously pay attention and teeter, we were instead presented with her summary. The summary lists skills on the left followed by two columns “satisfactory” and “needs improvement”. McKenna’s entire list was “satisfactory”, except for one skill “playing independently”.
This was also the only area needing improvement at her last parent teacher conference.
McKenna is an extraordinarily independent child. As an infant, she was the Velcro baby. She was literally attached to someone constantly. Fortunately, she had absolutely no preference for who that person was, so long as they held her, standing up, and preferably swaying. However, the second she started creeping around she was gone, she was practically walked off the Dr. Sears babywearing poster. She would check back periodically to make sure someone was still around but otherwise was perfectly content to explore on her own.
McKenna now is incredibly comfortable with adults, she will ask anyone to play, sit down and have dinner with complete strangers, and is totally comfortable removing ponytail holders from the unsuspecting. Once when she was just learning how to walk, she made it all the way over to a neighboring table, found a grandfather type, and hit him on the leg until he gave her a French fry.
We thought this was hysterical and took pictures.
So I guess it isn’t all that odd that she wants to spend lots of time with her teachers, after all the teachers are much more likely to respond to her requests, to help her through the hard parts, to play the games she chooses, give her lots of praise for doing things well, oh hmmmm.
We try to be careful in our praise, to not put labels on her that she feels pressure to live up to, to praise specific aspects of what she does and encourage her good work. But I wonder, what is the effect of too much praise? Could it be that having the attention and admiration of adults is more satisfying to her than the competing needs of other children?
I can’t say for sure but I am trying to be more conscious of what I say, because I think that just as constant threats quickly lose their potency, so does constant praise. Now I have to learn too how to enjoy as much time with her as I can as a working mom, but also make sure that she isn’t dependent on me for entertainment. The tricky part is figuring out how to encourage solo play, I think helping me wash the baseboards ought to do it!