Verbal Praise versus External Reward: Effects on Children
When it comes to child performance, is verbal praise better than external reward? There has been growing research in recent years that suggests the theory that neither verbal praise nor external rewards are beneficial to children. “A child deserves to take delight in [their] accomplishments, to feel pride in what [they’ve] learned how to do”. This theory suggests that adults take shortcuts and “manipulate kids with rewards instead of explaining and helping them to develop needed skills and good values” (Kohn). So is this true? Let’s take a look at the effects of verbal praise and external reward on children.
Does praise increase positive behavior?
In many cultures such as China praise is rare. People worry about the effects of praise. That too much praise will inflate the ego...make people think to highly of self and less of a community. This seems to be an ancient concern. Today things are different. Westerners praise each other all the time. And Western parents praise their kids all the time. We praise because we think that praise is going to make our kids better, more motivated, more confident, more inclined to follow positive behavior. Praise can be a powerful form of encouragement. For instance, moms who praise their preschoolers for their good manners have kids with better social skills (Garner 2006; Hastings et al 2007). But in some cases, praise can actually undermine your child’s motivation. It depends on how the praise is used. Praise can be a powerful motivating force if you follow these guidelines: • Be sincere and specific with your praise
• Praise children only for traits they have the power to change • Use descriptive praise that conveys realistic, attainable standards • Be careful about praising children for achievements that come easily • Be careful about praising children for doing what they already love to do • Encourage children to focus on mastering skills and not on comparing themselves to others
In addition, it’s important to be sensitive to your child’s developmental level. Babies and toddlers benefit from praise that encourages them to explore on their own. In a study of 24-month old children, researchers watched how mothers responded to their toddlers while they attempted a challenging task. Then, these same families were invited back to the lab a year later and kids were tested again. Researchers found that the 36-month old kids who were most likely to tackle challenges—and to persist at a task—were the ones whose mothers had praised and encouraged their independence at 24 months (Kelley et al 2000). Whereas very young children are likely to take your praise at face value, older children are a different story. As children mature, they become aware of your own possible motives for praising them. If they perceive you to be insincere, they may dismiss your praise. They may also be sensitive to being patronized or manipulated. Children won’t feel very encouraged by praise if you seem insincere. But insincere praise isn’t just ineffective. It can be damaging. It is not likely that praise in a negative factor for small children but once children become mature enough to question your motives, they may become sensitive to the effects of insincere praise. To prevent the appearance of insincerity, avoid frequent, effusive praise. And avoid praise that is sweeping or general. Children are more likely to doubt it. Some praise is merely about making a judgment “Good job!” Other praise provides information about what the recipient did right. “I like the way you made your bird house. I think a bird would love to live in that house.” Informational praise is describing what you liked about it and explaining why it’s important. Descriptive praise is thought to be more helpful than general praise. When you give a child descriptive praise, you don’t just tell them what they are doing well. You give them specific...
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