The competitive childrearing arena is getting smaller and smaller the more I read, and I find myself starting to recognize the names of the key players (not just you, Kohn!!). It certainly is relevant to my professional interests, since it’s my full-time job now to raise a child. So I’m just staying abreast of the literature.*

*My impulse is to line that statement with sarcasm, but why? Have I internalized the type of thinking that marginalizes stay-at-home moms as though what we do every day is not valuable work? DISCUSS.

Anyheezy, I just read a[nother] piece about use of praise with children over at Aeon magazine (which is a pretty great publication and you should read it regularly).

It was good to read something like this on Aeon, as opposed to Salon or Slate or HuffPo, because Aeon, so far at least, seems to have higher standards in terms of what they’ll publish. It was a decent piece, well researched and rounded out, but my first take on it was holy crap she’s more neurotic than I am, which I suspect is a result of the pin-point specificity of the topic and how fraught she seemed over it.

I feel like there has been so much focus on praise and its neighboring concepts that people are getting lost in the weeds.

Because at this level, we are talking about whether your kid is getting first chair trombone or second chair trombone. You’re doing fine. That is like the tippy top of the hierarchy of needs and you’re not even like, is my child self-actualizing? Because he is. You’re like, is my child self-actualizing in the best possible way?

He’s playing trombone. He’s going to be fine.

With this fretting over whether or not to praise, overpraising or underpraising, praising to target specific self-esteem levels… I mean, there are just so many vectors to consider other than praise. I realize that to say there’s way more to consider is easy criticism, but I don’t direct this specifically to Flora; I direct this to the general hand-wringing over this specific (and, I am going to again suggest potentially classist) parenting woe.

Achievement and success are mostly meaningless terms and I feel like those are the end goals in these debates about praise, grit, perseverance, trophies-for-everyone… But to be honest, I don’t think I give a shit about achievement and success. And I’m not about to hand you a cliche about just wanting my child to be happy, nor am I going to say that I just want a nice kid who isn’t an asshole. Of course I want those things, but that’s not what we’re talking about here and I do want more for him, on top of being a nice, happy, non-asshole.

(For the record, I don’t believe in happiness as a true enduring experience, but let’s just let that stand as is for now.)

I want my child to love learning and to want to learn. If he ends up getting Cs in school but it’s clear that he loves learning and is learning on his own terms, I feel like I’d be ok with that (can’t predict 100% here). And as a child, I want him to learn and play for learning and playing’s sake. I want him to enjoy it. I don’t want him to perform for praise or rewards, I want the experience to be its own reinforcement.

And that is why I don’t say “good job” every time he picks something up. He’s already excited about it and has created his own reinforcement and endogenous praise. It’s not that I never praise, it’s just that my responses to his behaviors are much more varied and lie outside and around the praise/no-praise vector. What I do instead is share his excitement and let him know, in whatever way seems appropriate, that I am right there with him and that I think all of this life stuff is really exciting too.

I think the saddest thing for me would be to see him lose interest in learning and experiencing, in whatever way is right for him. That is one of the major ways in which I will measure my parenting, when I reflect on all of this years from now.


Image credit: Kes, a film by Ken Loach


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