Posts tagged ‘praise’

intermixing worlds

I took Echo to art class today. The class is designed for toddlers so “class” really means a designated room with lots of supplies layed out and tons of mayhem. But I love it because she loves it so much. She loves the very idea of it. She marvels at the fact that she has an actual teacher, and there are chairs just for kids, and that she goes to school. To say it’s a big deal is to put it mildly.

But you’d never be able to tell from the outside. This girl’s waters run deep and she doesn’t reveal anything on the surface. She picks a spot at the table and methodically goes about her work. She puts layer after layer on her piece of paper, stopping to observe everyone around her but never losing focus. It’s incredible to watch.

I did a fair share of people watching too though I tried to keep my blinders on a bit because other parents in a setting like that can drive me insane. It seems every observation gets turned into an evaluation, Good job squeezing that glue! , to which I am sensitive only because I choose to avoid these kind of comments. (See here.) There was also a fair bit of, Be nice!, when any child objected to the actions of another. Grrr.

But at one point in my more minimized people watching I saw another mom walk in and I realized I had just started reading her blog. I am aware that every Tom, Dick, and Susan has a blog these days, probably a good portion of that room has a blog, but I couldn’t help but be a little star struck. It wasn’t exactly like Soulemama entering the classroom, but on a small local scale it kinda was. From the outside there is no way to tell if a particular blog is wildly popular or not, I only know that late at night in my living room I read about this particular woman’s life, which makes her someone other than ordinary in my world.

In any case I went about helping to glue beads and snapping a couple of pics so that I could post about art class when the other mom brought out her camera and started snapping pics for, I assume, her blog. It was so strange because the blogging world was entering the real world, which in my experience just doesn’t happen that often, and the other strange part was that I noticed weird feelings within myself. I thought maybe I was jealous of her camera, or too aware of the fact that I was too shy to approach her and confess to reading her blog, but then when I stripped it all down, even though those thoughts were all true, I basically was just preparing myself to not like her.

What is that? I have been disliked by other women my whole life and have never enjoyed it or understood it. And today I was that person. I mentioned it to Kris later and she said fear of scarcity is the cause of those kinds of thoughts. That makes sense to me. For so many of us there is the sense that if someone else has something, or is something, then there won’t be enough left over for the rest of us. Looking back on all the women and girls that have made efforts to take me down a notch I think Kris is right. One of my best friends in elementary school read my palm and let me know that it looked like my dream of becoming an astronaut wasn’t going to come true. The girl couldn’t even read palms she just wanted to cut me down a bit. We were ten.

Well this lady, from the two seconds that we interacted, seems very nice and deserving of anything and everything wonderful that comes into her life. I’m glad I caught myself at the very onset of those feelings before they clouded my vision and prevented me from seeing another awesome mom, in this awesome community, for what she is. Here’s her blog if you’d like to check it out.

Speaking of blogs, we want to change the name of this blog. We started it as a place to give updates on things related to Feeleez but as it turns out, I like writing! And I have things to say. So, as you all know, the topics have strayed far away from that starting point. Does anyone have any good ideas for a new name? What do you think the overarching theme is around here? Please help! xo

April 20, 2010 at 8:17 pm 5 comments

out with the old

There have been a flurry of questions about the previous posts. We have always been empathic parents, even when using both praise and punishment, but now we use empathy as our primary tool, and leave praise and punishment out of the equation. Here is what our transition has been like.

Bella, now nine years old, was four when Nathan and I  decided to go cold turkey with praise and punishment. When we told her we would no longer be giving her time-outs, and that we would offer empathy and information instead, her eyes widened and a big grin slid across her face. She was delighted. Her sister Xi was two at the time, but began immediately to reap the rewards of the new parenting style as well since we didn’t have to set her down in order to rush Bella off  for a time-out. Nor did she have to endure the shouting that occurred every time Bella fought against the very idea of a time-out. Instead, Xi remained in arms while we held Bella and sorted through the trouble. Echo, born a couple years later, has been parented with empathy from the get go, and has had the benefit, in addition to her parents, of two sisters handling her baby demands and screams with sincere empathy and problem solving instead of eye rolling and threats.

As we shifted toward empathy as our main response, the main thing we noticed was the tendency for the child to still squirm away from responsibility. Accustomed to a disagreeable consequence, they would still do things to evade punishment, like distorting the facts of the situation to paint themselves in a better light. We had to continuously remind them that there was not going to be a time-out, that they could be completely honest with us and we would still hold them, love them, and work it out with words.

That being said, although both Nathan and I parent this way all the time, the co-parents of Bella and Xi do not. So some of these difficulties with candor still occasionally pop up today. We find that the more time, proportionally speaking, the child spends in another environment, the more often these difficulties arise. The daughter that spends most of the week away from us, might, during a moment of strife, first respond with a lie, (before she realizes this is unnecessary), in an effort to protect herself from the punishment she is accustomed to receiving at her other home. The second daughter, who spends less time away from us, might twist the facts just slightly before remembering that she doesn’t have to. The third daughter, who is with us all day, every day, cops to an offense immediately. “I wanted that toy so I grabbed it from her and then I punched her!

In addition to learning that there was no longer any reason not to be honest with us, the girls also had to learn that we were being honest with them. Our questions about their emotional state were not rhetorical. At first, if we asked “How do you feel about that?“, we often got a reluctant, disgruntled, “Fine“, in return. They did not yet know that we really did want to know how they felt, we really did have every intention of not only discovering their opinions but also factoring them in completely, and using this information to find solutions that met everybody’s needs. It took time to build their trust.

Parenting in this new way also required a little restructuring of our days. It took awhile to get used to allowing for time in the moment to see an empathic discussion through to its end. We are now aware that in comparison, time is actually saved by parenting in this manner. For example, leaving the grocery store in order to carry out that common threat: “If you can’t stop ________, then we will have to leave the store!“, is even more inefficient than taking a moment to actually be with a child while he melts down in the cereal aisle. When using empathy, information, and patience as your primary parenting tools, designing a simple day for you and your children becomes a necessary practicality. If you are unwilling to forcibly strap your toddler into their car seat when they resist buckling up, squeezing several back to back appointments into one day just isn’t smart.

Eliminating praise took some getting used to as well. The very idea that sweet sounding words like “Good job“, and “Well done!” might be harmful is a bit of a brain twister. We certainly slipped on occasion, but by and by, the other, simply observational ways of responding, became second nature and now we hardly think of it at all. But let’s face it, even if we no longer praise our kids, %99.9 of the rest of our culture does. There is no way to avoid it.

When confronted with a stranger that wants to let my kid know she is a “good girl, good traveler, or good helper, ” I might say something like “Oh, we don’t do the whole good/bad thing.” and smile. This is, of course, completely confusing to them (not to mention unheard of) and certainly will not change their future behavior, but I do it to be true to myself and to honor my girl. Though it is tempting to try to convert others to interact without praise, the challenge is too big, and the numbers of praisers too immense. Instead I soothe myself with the idea that there is an oasis here at home, a place where they are loved unconditionally, and that the time they spend in this environment is rich and influential.

We also check in with our girls after they hear a bit of praise from others. The bank teller said you were a good girl. Why do you think she said that? How did you feel when she said that? Or, we offer additional information so that they might hear the intent behind the words.

I think Grandpa said “Good Job!” about your drawing because 1. he loves you so much, 2. he wants you to feel good and thinks that might be a way to communicate that, and 3. he likes the drawing.

We give them information that there are all kinds of opinions about everything, and that if they are feeling good about their work, if they are meeting their own goals, that might be the best way to identify whether or not it’s a job well done.

Praise is a potent thing. After receiving praise, even once, I hear Echo using it around the house. Little whisperings to herself like: Good Job Echo!. Or she will ask: is this a good job mom, the way I am scrambling these eggs? I try to understand what she is looking for by asking her some questions.

Are you wondering if I like what you are doing?  Yes I do.

Are you wondering if what you are doing is helpful to me? Yes it is.

Are you wanting me to notice that you know how to scramble eggs all by yourself? Yes. I see you. You didn’t know how to do that before, but now you do.

It takes a lot of self-confidence to do something in a way that others do not. The odds are that we will be the only parents at the park that do not scream “Good job!” as our child careens down the slide. The odds are that several parents will consider our empathy and negotiations “permissive”. Though we now take this in stride – our self empathy (when we were feeling lonely because we did not fit into the parenting norm) and our finding a supportive community were both crucial to the success of our transition to this empathic style of parenting.

Although this transition started by leaving praise and punishment behind, we continue to transition by:

*looking really closely at each interaction

*unlearning our automatic responses

*being mindful of what is most important in every instance

*and holding the integrity of our relationship with these girls as the highest priority.

And so far, I have no regrets.

March 1, 2010 at 11:49 pm 8 comments

it’s counterintuitive, i know


If I were to break down our parenting into categories, I would say that %70 is spent offering empathy in some form or another, %20 is spent providing information (detailed explanations for how things work and why we are asking the kids to do what we are asking), and %10 on miscellaneous things like negotiating peace, brainstorming solutions, and a few executive decisions. When I look at the numbers it seems empathy takes up an enormous amount of our parenting time, and when I look a little deeper I realize it is, in part,  because we are using empathy to supplant praise.

Praise, along with it’s counterpart, punishment, is probably the most common parenting strategy in our culture. Chore charts, time-outs, stickers, allowance, consequences, etc. I know this is how I was raised, how most of us were raised. When I met Nathan and began to help parent Bella and Xi, we kept scratching our heads over this strategy. One of our rules was: when Bella hit, she got a time-out. So when she did hit, (time-outs did not deter the hitting), she immediately felt very upset, not by the fact that she had hurt someone but by how she was going to be affected. She was, quite literally, traumatized by the separation. This bothered us. Not only were time-outs not preventing the behavior, but we felt they were also causing our relationship with her to suffer, as well as raising our stress levels to uncomfortable heights. We decided the strategy wasn’t working.

The book we looked to for help with this was Unconditional Parenting by Alfie Kohn. Kohn makes the case that not only is praise and punishment not good for our kids, but it also backfires by taking away all of their own built-in motivation in any activity, wether it is swimming, clearing the table, spelling, or basketball. There’s a lot more, but this information was all we needed to start down a different path, one that felt so much better.

Abandoning praise and punishment is how we got to %70 empathy. But praise, in particular, is not easy to shake. To start I find it helpful to identify what you are trying to achieve by using praise.

If you use praise because you want your child to know that you love her and to know that you are noticing her achievements, switching to simple observations will do just that. Observation is empathy at it’s finest, simply seeing who your child is.

Some examples:

“I see you!”

“You climbed all the way up there!”

“I see you walking all by yourself. You seem pretty happy about that!”

“I saw you stack those toys up. Yeah. Then they fell down.”

It feels silly at first, but all most children want is for you to see them and be with them. They aren’t wondering if you deem their actions “good” (Good walking! Good sharing! Good jumping!).

What is important when observing, is to match your observations to their reactions. Let your face mirror theirs. If they are excited about walking all by themselves, then go ahead and get excited. If they are disappointed, then let them know you see that too. (“Oh. You didn’t want those blocks to fall”, instead of, “It’s okay! You built that tower really high. Good job! Good building!”)

Asking her questions is a great way to let her know you see what she is doing without forcing an opinion on her.

“You are wiping your hands. How do you like that? Do you like it when your hands are clean?”

“How is that for you?”

“Do you like that?”

“Is that fun?”

“Is that okay with you?”

If you are using praise in order to get your child to do something, a point to consider is that although praise may work well in the short term, it is also the best way to get them to forget what it is they want/enjoy/need in life, to eventually stop doing those things they were praised into doing, and to lose their close connection with you. (Please, don’t take my word for it – read the book.)

Instead of looking for substitute words to say, it might be more effective to stop thinking in this way entirely. Kids are not here to be controlled, to perform on command, or to follow orders without thinking. Or, at least, this isn’t the kind of human I want to raise. Children have a natural care for others, they automatically want to help the people they love. By creating a solid foundation, with empathy as the main tool, your child will listen and care for you and your ideas automatically. You build the foundation by supporting them through all of their struggles and triumphs with respect and empathy.

An example:

“You’re really sad. You don’t want to get in the car. You want more time at the park. You’re not ready to go.”

Maybe there is a little more back and forth as well:

“How much more time do you need here? Are you willing to go after you go down the slide three more times?”

This works if it is not a rote response, but truly feeling what the scenario might be like for them. Often this is enough to get the kid to the car. It certainly requires a lot of patience from the parent as the response is almost never instantaneous. Indeed, a simplified schedule is helpful. You might not want to squeeze a trip to the park into an already packed day, as this will not afford you the time necessary for a fully empathic response if the child doesn’t want to leave. Time is not always saved by empathy but the relationship is, not only saved but enriched.

Then, when children feel heard and understood, they are much more willing to hear and understand what you are feeling. (Or anyone else for that matter.)

The same example continued:

“I know you aren’t ready to leave the park yet. You were hoping to stay here a lot longer. But I am ready to leave. I’m having a hard time here at the park. I’m super hungry and also nervous about being late to meet our friends.”

Empathy, followed by information. No praise, no punishment. It might look or sound crazy, but an exchange like this works for us every time.

February 25, 2010 at 10:12 pm 8 comments

you’re so smart

Natalie I found it so interesting to watch you with Echo. Typically, after an event like that, I expect people to heap praise onto a child. But, by doing that I understand that you’re beginning a lifetime of the good/bad – praise/punish cycle. As a child I did not respond well to that model. So I’m curious as to what it looks like to not do that.

But, as I watched Echo write her name i got really excited…I could easily imagine myself saying things like “Oh look at you, you’re so smart…so good, blah, blah.” So, my question to you is: Do you have to fight an urge to say things like that?

The answer is yes, sort of. I was really excited when Echo wrote her name. I was fairly bursting inside, but I did not want to influence Echo’s experience with my own value judgments of good or bad, smart, or not, etc. I use her feelings as my model. In this case she was almost blase so I remained pretty neutral. (If she had been ecstatic I would have jumped up and down with her.)

Real life examples are:

“Oh wow! You are jumping!” not “Good jumping Echo!”

“Oh yah, I see it. How do you like it?” not “Great drawing! You are such a good artist!”

“I see you!” not “Good job!”

Unconditional Parenting by Alfie Kohn is the perfect read if you are looking to get out of the praise/punishment cycle that I think most of us suffered from in our childhood. I think the effect of praise, in particular, during my childhood still continues to affect me negatively today. It’s such a mind bender because it seems like a wonderful thing to let your kid know that you are proud, or that you think they did a good job. We have found though, through research and experience, that the best way to stifle a child’s natural interest is to praise them. Start with Kohn’s book, it is essential, in my opinion.

Also visit the Natural Parenting Center for more examples of neutrality and using unconditional parenting in real life.

Thanks Alyssa!

October 16, 2009 at 4:00 pm 1 comment


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