Since my last post on discipline, I've picked up a couple of parenting books. My favorite so far (out of my limited library) is Parenting with Love & Logic, by Foster Cline & Jim Fay.
As the title suggests, the authors believe that a parent should provide 2 important things to their children above all other: Love and Logic. The Love part is about making your children feel loved unconditionally, and the Logic part is about helping them learn to be responsible and learn to make good choices.
One of my favorite sections so far discusses "praise" vs. "encouragement." Like many topics within the book, Love and Logic are found to be closely related within this section. When discussing praise vs. encouragement, you find that while praise can helpfully support good behavior and successes, it can also pigeon-hole the kid and communicate pseudo-harmful undertones.
For instance, let's say you want to recognize that your kid did his writing homework. You could praise him by saying "you did a good job on your homework!" Harmless at a glance, right? Maybe, but there are a lot of scenarios in which this wouldn't help. What if he didn't do a good job, but by your response makes him think it's good enough? Overusing this could promote laziness. What if he thinks he didn't do a good job? You could sound patronizing and slowly lose his trust. What if he knows he did great work? You've communicated that maybe he can't judge good work for himself, so it encourages him to look to others for his value.
This is the nature of praise. I don't think there's anything wrong with occasional praise, but by making a pattern of praise over encouragement you could unintentionally instill negative values when you only wanted to help. And by voicing your positive judgements about him, you slowly take away his need to judge himself.
Encouragement is subtly different. In the same scenario, you could say "I see you finished your writing assignment!" By just saying you noticed, you've left your kid open to tell you about it. Does he think a good job? Does he need help? Did he learn something interesting? Opportunities like this allow him to make decisions and judgements about himself by himself. Even more, it opens up opportunities to love, like reinforcing his positive view of himself, giving help when he asks for it, or even just having a conversation about something he cares about.
In the ongoing theme of Parenting with Love & Logic, the discussion of praise vs. encouragement is all about giving your kids opportunities to think and make choices for themselves (within reason), all the while showing them love in what they do and being prepared to help them navigate the consequences.
In the early years it could be letting them choose whether to put on their coat or carry it with them on a cold day (as the parent, you know they'll be ready to put it on well before their lips turn blue). As they approach the teenage years, it could involve the kid managing his own homework schedule before the rigors of AP classes add to the difficulty (a couple of bad grades in 4th grade never hurt anyone). By the time they're in high school, driving, and thinking about moving off to college, they've developed such a firm understanding of decisions and cosequences that you're comfortable letting them drive, go out with friends, and date.
Of course each of these choices has its own set of potential consequences. The biggest difficulty in the Love & Logic method is hedging your protective instincts as a parent to help your child grow into a responsible adult. You may already understand the consequences, but your kid has a lot to learn about them.
Always moving forward,