Truth be told, while my son was getting along fine under the new praise regime, it was I who was suffering. It turns out that I was the real praise junkie in the family. Praising him for just a particular skill or task felt like I left other parts of him ignored and unappreciated. I recognized that praising him with the universal “You’re great—I’m proud of you” was a way I expressed unconditional love.
Offering praise has become a sort of panacea for the anxieties of modern parenting. Out of our children’s lives from breakfast to dinner, we turn it up a notch when we get home. In those few hours together, we want them to hear the things we can’t say during the day—We are in your corner, we are here for you, we believe in you.
In a similar way, we put our children in high-pressure environments, seeking out the best schools we can find, then we use the constant praise to soften the intensity of those environments. We expect so much of them, but we hide our expectations behind constant glowing praise. The duplicity became glaring to me.
I never thought about it before...and I won't think too much on it now...but I wonder if I suffered from what the article suggests. I grew up being told I was very smart. To this day, my sisters and I are differentiated by how good grades come to us. For me, they just seem to happen; for my sister, she studied extremely hard.
But I remember freaking OUT when I got anything below an "A-"...on anything. In my "advanced" fifth grade class, I cheated repeatedly. I remember not wanting to cheat, but feeling like I had no choice. In fifth grade, come on! I actually got caught once and ended up getting a "D" in science. The only reason I didn't fail was because I had been getting "A" in all my assignments up until that point.
I wonder if the notion of being afraid of failure has affected the choices I've made in my life. I always wanted to run a theatre company...am I not doing it because I failed at my first attempts?
Anyway...I am really glad I don't have kids because I can read this article with an impartial eye. The writer interviewed a parent who instantly rejected scientific studies because her version of praise was working for her. I'm glad I'm not in a situation where I instantly discount the article because it rattles my cages. In fact, I am paying the article more attention because it rattles my cages. It's going into my mental parenting file cabinet.