Appreciation is becoming a rare commodity in adults these days. Not enough of it going around. And not because we have all become mean and don’t want to say something nice. A bit of it is also because, and I’ve truly felt this, praise is just become undervalued. Not seen as necessary or of any significance.
In kids, on the other hand, I think there is a little too much of it doing the rounds. When every morsel of food eaten or every bath taken becomes an “exemplary achievement”, thoroughly praised, the kids soon become apathetic to praise. Also, a lot of constant appreciation is just becoming a substitute for quality time and effort. Kids are smart. They see this. And so, praise loses its value.
Probably why we don’t see much real praise going around when they grow up.
So am I saying we shouldn’t praise our kids? That we should reduce how much we praise them? No! Not that. I do praise Sid and the other kids that come to The Reading Room, as well. Constantly. What I am saying, exactly, is to watch what you praise them for.
And that brings me to the first point, which is, try and praise them for EFFORT and not RESULTS. Let them learn that it is important to try. Failure becomes of zero significance if true appreciation comes their way for trying real hard and giving their best.
I have children coming here every day reading stories, writing stories, playing word games, etc. And yes, I do praise them. But I make it a point to tell them that I am really glad they tried; then I continue with what I think they could do to make it even better. They don’t get easy praises for writing “once upon a time… now everything became alright… The end”, because I think, that is counterproductive and doesn’t make them try anything new the next time. On the other hand, no praise at all is also very harmful since it gives them no reason to try at all. What we are teaching them is that in the real world out there as well, they are only going to get praised if they work really really hard.
So the trick is to remember to praise for the effort, for trying something new, for being brave in doing something they haven’t tried before, for taking a suggestion/instruction from earlier and implementing it into their work. Put some effort into the praise and explain what you are appreciating. Don’t just look at every drawing of a sun rising from in between two mountains with an exaggerated “Fantastic!” What are you telling your kids? That they don’t really need to put more effort to be fantastic? And that if they spend more time, try something new and it doesn’t give the same results, they wouldn’t be fantastic? They would always only draw the mountains and the sun that way. Think about it.
Enjoy their efforts. Don’t make them seek approval on results.
And that brings me to the second point. Approval.
I have seen a lot of kids flourish under the right kind of appreciation. Appreciation, when not overdone and when given for the right reasons, is something the kids learn to value. It shows them that if they try hard and do something new, it brings pleasure and wonder to others.
Appreciation from us is “Wow, you tried that new technique today and your drawing is not a stick figure anymore. It is great that you tried!” You can even add a “Will you show me how?” They will love it. And they will want to try newer things.
But then there is the dangerous step brother — approval.
Approval from us is “hmmm good. Keep it up”. On the out, still sounds positive. But it has this negative undertone — “nothing less is expected of you. This has brought the expected results”. It puts pressure on the kids. There is the pressure of bringing the expected results to get approval.
This means that, in appreciation, the kid is trying to do something fun and he is proud of what he did and is sharing it with you. Your joining in to enjoy his/her effort and sharing it with him/her is an added bonus.
However, in seeking approval, the child has now stopped doing anything for themselves. They are not taking much pleasure out of their work. It is “work” and it is done under the pressure of having to be approved by you.
So, appreciation for the child is “Yay! I did something new and they noticed it too” — Double joy.
And approval is “Will this turn out good enough for them to like it?” — Only stress.
Parents, teachers and most of the authority figures in the lives of these kids would bring much better results and develop much better attitudes, just by appreciating right — Right amount, for the right things and in the right manner.
On the other hand, bringing up kids who spend their entire life only seeking approval from authority figures – who work their whole lives to please their bosses, aimed at the next salary hike or next promotion – while deriving no fun or joy from life, not really a very fulfilling existence.
So, what I am trying to say here is, let us all appreciate each other more.
Not just for the sake of saying “gorgeous” or “fantastic”, but actually look, analyse and appreciate.
So that, the effort by others feels validated and worthwhile.
So that, we have happy children who grow up to be individuals who don’t just work under the stress of approval but do ‘fantastic‘ things that attract genuine appreciation.
And so that, they grow up to be individuals who genuinely and keenly appreciate others and are a pleasure to be with.