While I am not a Tigermom by any stretch of the imagination, fellow Parentella contributor Steve Franklin and I are in total agreement when it comes to artificial Western praise. Only my reasons for it are completely different (and Western).
Surely, an epitome of Western parenting has to be How to Talk so Kids Will Listen (& Listen So Kids Will Talk) by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlich. As the title suggests, this book is for parents (like me) that want to effectively communicate with their children, not talk at them. And, interestingly enough, it was this book that made me think about the artificial praise that comes so naturally to parents like me…or so it seems.
I thought I was kind of a mean parent because every piece of artwork my daughter ever did wasn’t something I wanted to treasure. She would show it to me, and while I was saying not so convincingly, “very nice,” I was thinking I have to remember to throw this away when she goes to bed. My daughter loves art and would create a dozen “pieces” a day easy.
How to Talk… approached it differently. They talked about how parents being proud of our children wasn’t really a key motivator, but rather, being concrete and specific about what we liked, and saying, “you must be so proud” would put it back on them to take ownership rather than looking to the parent to validate them. That was an important message to me since my end-goal as a parent is to raise my daughters into productive, independent adults.
I remember witnessing an incident of artificial praise that highlighted immediate downfalls, too.
We were on a plane from Florida to L.A. (i.e., a long flight). The mother in front of us was trying to carry on a conversation with her husband, but her 3-year-old kept interrupting her. The first time her daughter displayed a drawing for her mom, the mom responded in one of those high-pitched “good mommy” voices, “oh, that’s wonderful, honey! That’s so beautiful!”
The daughter kept churning them out, looking again and again for her mother’s input, interrupting the conversation until finally the mom got fed up and the girl ended up crying.
I think the little girl really wanted to know what made that first drawing so wonderful. Her mother hadn’t told her anything specific, but the daughter was sure her mother must’ve liked the first picture best since that elicited the most positive reaction. She tried over and over to re-create that, but each time the mother’s response became more dismissive because she wanted to get back to her conversation. Artificial praise wasn’t helping either of them.
Interestingly enough, the more I got out of the habit, the more my daughter’s drawings improved. When I did really like something, I made a point of telling her what exactly I liked about it. This fall, she’ll be attending an arts high school as a Visual Arts major. And we’re both very proud.
April McCaffery is a single mother to two daughters, entering 6th and 9th grade.