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Why Too Much Praise Kills Self-Motivation

Posted by Dave on April 2, 2011 at 11:40 AM

Over the past 20 or so years, many adults have gotten into the habit of effusively praising children for any effort or achievement – no matter how insignificant – and NEVER criticizing. Over time, kids come to expect that everything they do will result in a flood of positive feel-good messages from the adults around them. It’s a strong, if artificial, motivator for some kids to keep going, even on tasks they don’t really like.

 

Of course, this all ends when they go off to college or join the workforce. Professors and bosses simply don’t have the time (or inclination) to lean over Janie’s shoulder and praise her every little effort or success. It comes as quite a shock for some young adults. And, just wait for the fireworks and tears when they get criticized for weak performance!

 

To survive in the real world, adults need to be self-motivated. That’s what employers look for, especially when hiring young people. They don’t have the time to provide that constant external motivation that some kids have come to depend on. It has to come from within.

 

Effusive praise simply isn’t appropriate expect in cases of extraordinary achievement. Most of the time, a simple acknowledgement is all that’s needed to tell a child she’s on the right track.

 

Kids need to develop internal motivations instead, and learn to deal with criticism in the relatively safe and supportive home and school environments.

 

It’s important to expose kids to a wide range of activities that allow them to find those “hot button” interests – the things they will enjoy doing with or without your praise. Once your child finds something that excites them (assuming it’s healthy), gently support and encourage further exploration, being careful to allow your child as much autonomy as possible.

 

When they start enjoying an activity for its own sake and not for external praise, the activity takes on greater personal value, which in turn drives that all-important internal motivation.

 

Self-motivation is essential for more mundane activities too. Things like homework and studying for exams, keeping one’s room clean, helping with household chores. For self-motivation to become internalized with these sorts of things the child needs to be impressed with the importance of getting them done, regardless of their level of interest. You might even say he needs to develop a sense of duty – to the family, himself, and others around him.

 

When it comes to criticism or correction, your child NEEDS your feedback to know when he’s not doing it right or meeting your standards. It’s the most effective way to get them on the right track. Otherwise, they must rely on trial and error, an inefficient method at best. A self-motivated child will generally accept your guidance.

 

Do you have to catch and correct every mistake? No, and you shouldn’t. Some lessons are best learned the hard way, so pick your issues carefully. A child who learns a hard lesson (with the support of family, teachers, and friends) becomes a much stronger person than one who has not.

 

I like the following model: Teach them the right way, encourage it, and if they choose to do otherwise make sure they have to deal with the consequences (as long as they are not life changing or dangerous).

Categories: General Topics

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