Friday, September 16, 2011

Negative or Positive? Do You Use Praise? (Part 2)

I loved and will always love my mother, beyond words.  I loved my grandmother, but I don't believe I ever actually had a close relationship with her.  One of the things that prevented this was her belief that children knew nothing.   It is quite deflating when you are full of something exciting you have just learned, to be told "huh! What would you know?".   Unfortunately, this tended to happen rather a lot with my Nana.  Mum?  She was a strange mixture really.  She loved us so much, but was mostly not able to express this.  She would praise you, but then she would ruin it by holding you up as an example to your siblings.  Nothing is more certain to produce resentment and jealousy in people, than to be told that someone else has achieved something you haven't.  Or is cleverer or prettier - or whatever.

Over the years we have discussed mum's attitude endlessly, without ever coming to a proper understanding of her attitudes.  One horribly destructive habit she had was trying to get us to improve some part of our personality or looks by saying distressingly negative things to us.   An example which has always stuck in my mind, and which still hurts, is when she was endeavouring to get me to become more 'outgoing'.  She despaired of me, because I loved to read and would rather stay inside and read than run around the neighbourhood with the other kids my age.   Her way of 'encouraging' me to change was to say that I would never have any friends because I didn't have any personality.  I think I was about 13 at the time, and this was such a devastating thing for her to say to me.   Inwardly, I withdrew further from the other kids, believing that I was nothing.  Self-esteem and confidence took an almost permanent nosedive.    I was always unhappy inside, but pretended to be fine, and laughing and joking to the world.   If I tried to express how I really felt I would be ridiculed and called "The Great Pretender"  (after a song that was popular at the time).   This  was always such a terrible source of hurt to me.   She told me that I had a dreadful laugh and that I needed to change the way I laughed.   Can you imagine how I felt?   These are just two small examples of how destructive negativity is.

Even when we were older she used negativity - and we actually decided it was because she was afraid of new situations, and afraid to experiment.  That she was confident only with things that were tried and tested.   If you told her you had invited friends around and were going to cook a special dinner, she would instantly say "Oh no, you can't do that, you haven't done it before.  What if it goes wrong?".   And things should be done the way she did them, or they were wrong.   Weirdly, I have found myself doing some things  that make me exactly the same as my mum, for example,  telling my daughter that "you only need to use 'this much' water in the saucepan when you cook the vegetables"....  obviously this is learned behaviour.  And quite sad when I think about it, because I know very well we all have our own ways of doing things! 

My father?  He never praised.  You could rush home excitedly from school, full of the news that you had scored 99% on your English exam, only to be instantly flattened when he said you should have scored 150%.   Never a hug or a "well done"  or  "I am proud of you, you have worked hard".    I can remember only two instances in my entire life when he even said something complimentary about me.  Not to me, about me.  And mum was so astonished - immediately she had to  tell me  what he had said.

Which all just lays the groundwork for what this blog is about!   Praise.  Positivity.  Do you praise your child?  Recently, when my little granddaughter finally decided it was ok to poo on the toilet,  I said she should have a reward.  My daughter said she didn't need a reward, the praise they gave her was enough to bring a huge smile to her face.   This was a rule I promised I would use with my girl, and she is using it with her own little girl.  Praise where praise is due.   Forget about the negative stuff, the scolding, the arguments - there are plenty of them anyway!

Concentrate on the good  - ignore the behaviour you want to discourage and praise the behaviour you want to encourage.  If your child works hard, even if they don't get the result they wanted - praise the hard work.  We aren't all clever and we aren't all good at everything.  All I ever asked was that my daughter did the best she could do, it didn't matter whether she won or lost, got an A or an E on her test results.  The main thing was that she tried her hardest.   She worked hard, she reaped the reward, and she had our applause for work well done.    Everyone thrives on praise, whether a child or an adult.   Even when they pretend they don't need to be praised!  Praise is an acknowledgement of your efforts, after all.

Some while back I read an hilarious article in a magazine.  The journalist had interviewed a lady who was a wild animal trainer (I believe she trained animals for film work and the like).   The interviewee said that she was having so many arguments with her husband, as he refused to do the simplest things - like put his dirty clothes in the hamper.  Just small, irritating things that started to take on more and more significance.   She decided she would use the animal training techniques on her husband, just to see what happened.   As difficult as it was, she started to ignore things like dirty socks on the floor, and thank him for small things he did - like washing the dishes after the evening meal.   She was delighted when the training worked.   Six months later they had reached the point where there were no arguments, and both were very happy again in their marriage.  The most amazing thing about this was that the husband said he knew what she was doing, but it was so peaceful not being yelled at and nagged,  that he quite happily fell in with it and did his fair share.  I still laugh when I recall his remarks.  What she did?  She thanked him - she praised him.......

When we train a puppy we use the same technique.  As soon as puppy understands what we want, and does it, we praise or praise and reward.   And it works!   So too does it work with our children.  Instead of shouting and fighting with them, and constantly saying "no",   use praise!   When they are quite small and want to do something like play with the electrical socket, just a gentle "ah ah"  - take them away from the socket and distract their attention.   Once they are playing with the alternative and safe toy, praise!   "Good boy, you are playing with your train!".    It doesn't matter if you have to do this over and over, it won't be too long before the little one realises that the attention and praise come when he is NOT at the socket!

And no, I am not advocating that we have a trained seal on our hands, but I do honestly believe in giving recognition where it is due.  We praised Fifi with her toileting - she had a great fear of sitting on the toilet except for wees, so it was a huge achievement for her to use the toilet for a poo.  She had struggled with the idea for months.  What's not to applaud?

I don't believe it  matters what actual words you use,  your child will quickly understand when you say "I am so proud of you!".   We love to tell other people how proud we are of our children - but do tell your children FIRST!   You really will see a difference in the overall behaviour of your child.   Use positive reinforcement, not negativity.   Everything needs balance, as I believe I have said before.  If you are constantly critical and finding fault, or saying "no" to everything then any child will start letting you know how frustrated and unloved they feel.  

The smile on your child's face when you praise them is a delight to see.  And an added bonus?  Your child will grow in confidence each time you smile and say "well done!".

Please feel free to comment - whether you agree or disagree!   Thank you for taking the time to read my blog!

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