Friday, 1 March 2013

Children and the importance of praise

Something that Esme (my musing 4YO) said last night has bothered me. She told me that a child in her year had whispered to her, "I'm not very good at anything." When I asked Esme what her response had been, she shrugged and said, "I didn't say anything Mummy." Of course she didn't, for this is beyond a 4YO's emotional and social capacity. I took a positive angle, and said to Esme, 'What nonsense. For starters, we know that XXXX is good at running.' And indeed, I bet that child is good at lots of things. Though perhaps they just aren't told enough.

It got me thinking about the importance of praise and how negative reinforcement can have a thoroughly disabling effect on a child. From babyhood through toddlerhood, we ought to remember (and if you like, train ourselves) to offer an explanation each time we say no, to distract and move on positively. And to our pre-schoolers and rising fives, we ought to remember to calmly remove them from what they are doing that is wrong, or tell them what they're saying is not appropriate, and then talk about it afterwards, reinforcing the good at all times.

First of all, it disturbs me that this little person already feels this way. Secondly, I'm surprised that a 4YO can voice this - ie it almost sounds like it has been said to this child and the child is repeating it. I hope I'm wrong. Low self-esteem at any age is worrying, but at age four? One thing is for certain, if this child is struggling in the classroom environment, maybe he or she needs extra help. In the meantime, we all ought to be concentrating on the very things our children are good at.

There's a line in the fab fairytale film 'Pretty Woman,' where Julia Robert's character says, 'If you get put down enough, you start to believe it.' It is true. Do not under-estimate the way in which your child believes every single word you say. And never under-estimate, the power of positive reinforcement.

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