When it comes to positive reinforcement, most parents today are well aware of the importance of positive reinforcement. In fact, many will state that they provide their children with ‘constant reinforcement.’
In such families, you will hear Mom or Dad complimenting many small moments with large amounts of very specific praise. “I am SO PROUD of the way you are sitting right now.” “Timmy, that is an AWESOME use of your words.” “Jennifer, you are just THE MOST beautiful girl on the playground.” “I think you are the SMARTEST little boy alive.”
Let me be clear: There is nothing wrong with such comments, as an occasional moment of praise or as part of a greater understanding about the role of positive reinforcement. However, two issues need to be kept in mind.
Misconception: Children Need Constant Positive Reinforcement.
This is a misunderstanding, as children do not need or thrive with a constant barrage of positive comments from mom or dad. Certain books or parenting methods show parents where the ‘throttle’ is on positive reinforcement, but do not teach them how to ‘let off’ when the time is right.
Positive praise is not a problem. Constant positive praise is a problem, and here’s why: There is no reflection or transition to reality, and parents end up working harder at their child’s esteem…than the child does.
In reality, children become adolescents, who become adults. In those years, we must all learn to ‘esteem’ ourselves for our efforts in order to find happiness, OR we lack confidence and find ourselves week and dependent upon the input of others. We wrap our sense of how we feel about ourselves around the opinions of others. This is absolutely critical to understand!
The constant praise and verbal support from parents becomes a liability. Why? Because the child is ‘conditioned’ to have the external world ‘argue’ for his competency, his worthiness and his esteem. For many (not all), children in these homes learn to argue against their parents, often taking the position of “I’m stupid” or “I can’t” or “It’s too hard.” In other words, they fight against the constant praise and argue for their weakness. . . not their strengths.
In such situations, Mom or Dad often throw even MORE ENERGY into the positive reinforcement, and we see the children fighting even harder for their limitations.
Even when such obviously detrimental patters are not present, the excessive use of positive praise leaves a child ‘looking’ externally for the sense of esteem that needs to come from within.
Misconception: Positive Reinforcement is the Same As Praise.
If we believe that praise is the primary source of positive reinforcement (as often discussed in the media), then we end up relying upon words and more words to offer praise. This leaves us feeling like we have no other way to promote or support positive behavior, other than to praise. Not true!
Again, I must remind you: I am a fan of praise and positive reinforcement. Please be clear on this.
However, praise is ONE WAY to give your child reinforcement, and if seen as the only way to deliver positive reinforcement, it gets over-used. Then, not only does the praise stop working, but it blinds us to other options we have.
Imagine. . .for example. . .we know our child needs protein to survive, but if we believed the only way to deliver this to them was through protein rich tofu, then we would only feed them tofu. While protein is found in many foods, likewise, positive reinforcement can be found in many of your actions.
The key is understanding that praise is good and healthy, in the right amounts. It is also important to understand that there are multiple ways to deliver positive reinforcement. In next week’s article, I will describe more specifically how to provide reinforcement so that your child develops a strong and healthy self-esteem.