September 2017 - Praise October 20 2017

Surrounded by wooden blocks, a four-year-old builds a series of towers. She appears focused and determined to make a tall, stable structure. An adult walks by, notices the construction and says, “Good job!” The adult is pleased by something, but what exactly?

Even though it may be well intentioned, this type of praise is general, without specific information. It does not provide meaningful feedback for the child to be able to gauge why her/his action is “good” beyond the adult liking it. Additionally, the validation in this case comes from outside the child, and is based on the values of the adult--that which the adult holds to be good.

Listen as Dr. Jean Clinton, Clinical Professor, Department of Psychiatry and Behavioural Neurosciences at McMaster University, points out that the use of praise reflects an “image of the child” that views children as needing to look outside of themselves for acceptance and fulfillment – and that the role of the adult is to mold the child with verbal rewards. She then contrasts praise with encouragement and the concept of “growth mindset”  (a term coined by Carol Dweck) with which children understand that their effort and how they feel about their effort is what is important.

Reflect on your image of the child. How does your image affect the way that you talk and listen to, plan for, and interact with the children in your context? What are some ways that you recognize and encourage children?

In the second video, a boy in a busy classroom is intently building with blocks. Consider how this boy might react if an adult walked by and said, “Good job!”