Along with breakfast in bed and maybe some flowers or candy…if you have a young child, you’ll invariably be presented with a handmade present — of course, the best kind. And you won’t care if the colors clash, if the popsicle sticks aren’t straight, if the pasta is coming unglued; your heart will expand, almost painfully, with a gush of love and tenderness unique to the moment. These truly are the most precious gifts! And this is one instance where it is impossible (and unnatural!) not to praise your child. But what about every other day…? When you praise your child, do you really build self-esteem, as many people assume? Or do you unwittingly erode intrinsic motivation, pleasure and self-satisfaction?
Somewhere along the way it became generally assumed that praise builds self-esteem, leading to the daily parental litany of “Nice job!” and “Great throw!” and “Gorgeous painting!” and on and on ad nauseum. Pundits call it “affirmation” and “positive feedback.” B.F. Skinner called it “positive reinforcement.” (more…)