November 13 2017
“Good job!”, “Gimme five!”, “Awesome!”, “What a beautiful picture!”… these are a sampling of encouraging phrases you might hear at any playground, preschool, or anywhere else young children hang out. I’d never really given these words or the idea of praise much thought. I praise my own children when they accomplish something challenging or new, and I also praise the children with whom I work. After all, children with communication difficulties can really struggle sometimes – shouldn’t we acknowledge their efforts?
You can imagine my surprise then, when I attended a parenting talk at my son’s school, which addressed the negative effects of praise on children. Apparently, praise manipulates children so that they do what the adult wants them to do; it can also decrease a child’s motivation and sense of achievement. Yikes!
Turning to the research on this topic, I realized that there is a great debate among experts about the effects of praise on children. I came across a helpful article called “Clarifying Issues Regarding the Use of Praise with Young Children” by Dr. Mojdeh Bayat  which summarizes this debate, with particular focus on the use of praise with children with special needs. Using information from Dr. Bayat’s article and other sources, I have summarized the “praise debate” below, and given some suggestions about using praise with young children.
The terms “good boy” and “good girl” have been used since at least the mid-1800’s . But the idea of using praise to motivate children really took off after the publication of “The Psychology of Self-Esteem”  in 1969, which suggested that many of the problems of American society resulted from lack of self-esteem . As a result, praise became a way to boost children’s self-esteem, and over a thousand scholarly articles have since promoted the use of praise to improve children’s motivation and school performance.
Praising children with special needs increased in the 1960s, when studies (especially from the field of behaviourism) began to show its positive effects. Many intervention programs today continue to use praise with children with special needs because it can prevent:
In the 1980s and 1990s, some scholars started to argue that praise can undermine children’s motivation, create pressure to continue performing well, discourage risk taking, and reduce independence . Alfie Kohn, an author and lecturer on this topic, explains why praise may be harmful for young children , claiming that praise:
In some cultures, such as East Asian cultures, praise is rare. Despite this, the children seem to be very motivated . Furthermore, comparable terms for “good boy” and “good girl” don’t exist in some…Read More