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"Kids respond to genuine care"
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Alfie Kohn is a critic of the US educational system. I feel encouraged when I read his writing and see how many people, including teachers in the USA, agree with him. Here is just a little from him. Please visit his website to read more.
I used to have a link to an article about "time out" for parents, but that page is down now from Alfie's site. So here I have a link to help you search for all the things he has written about time out.
Five Reasons To Stop Saying
Hang out at a playground, visit a school, or show up at a childs birthday party, and theres one phrase you can count on hearing repeatedly: Good job! Even tiny infants are praised for smacking their hands together (Good clapping!). Many of us blurt out these judgments of our children to the point that it is becoming almost a verbal tic.
Plenty of books and articles advise
us against relying on punishment, from spanking to
forcible isolation (time out). Occasionally,
someone will even ask us to rethink the practice of
bribing children with stickers or food. But, youll
have to look awfully hard to find a discouraging word
about what is euphemistically called positive
reinforcement. After all, what could be wrong with
telling kids we like what theyre doing?
1. Manipulating children.
Suppose you offer a verbal reward to reinforce the behavior of a two-year-old who eats without spilling, or a five-year-old who gets ready for school without dawdling. Who benefits from this? Is it possible that telling our children theyve done a good job may have less to do with their emotional needs than with our convenience?
Rheta DeVries, a professor of education at the University of Northern Iowa, refers to this as sugar coated control. Very much like tangible rewardsor for that matter, punishments--its a way of doing something to children to get them to comply with our wishes. It may be effective at producing this result (at least for a while), but its very different from working with kids for example, by engaging them in conversation about what makes a family function smoothly, or what makes more work for a very busy Mommy. The latter approach is not only more respectful but more likely to help kids become thoughtful people.
The reason praise can work in the short run is that young children are hungry for our approval. But, we have a responsibility not to exploit that dependence for our own convenience. A Good job! to reinforce something that makes our lives a little easier can be an example of taking advantage of childrens dependence. Kids may also come to feel manipulated by this, even if they cant quite explain why.
2. Creating praise junkies.
To be sure, not every use of praise
is a calculated tactic to control childrens
behavior. Sometimes we compliment kids just because
were genuinely pleased by what theyve done.
Even then, however, its worth looking more closely.
Rather than bolstering a childs self-esteem, praise
may increase kids dependence on us. The more we
say, I like the way you... or Good
______ing, the more kids come to rely on our
evaluations, our decisions about whats
good or bad, rather than learning to form their own
judgements. It leads them to measure their worth in terms
of what will led us to smile and dole out some more
3. Stealing a childs pleasure
Apart from the issue of dependence,
a child deserves to take delight in her accomplishments,
to feel pride in what shes learned how to do. She
also deserves to be able to decide when to feel that way.
Every time we say Good job!, though,
were telling a child how to feel.
Good painting! may get children to keep painting for as long as we keep watching and praising. But, warns Lilian Katz, one of the countrys leading authorities on early childhood education, once attention is withdrawn, many kids wont touch the activity again. Indeed, and impressive body of scientific research has shown that the more we reward people for doing something, the more they tend to lose interest in whatever they had to do to get the reward. Now the point isnt to draw, to read, to think, to createthe point is to get the goody, whether its an ice cream or a Good job!
In a troubling study by Joan Grusec
at the University of Toronto, young children who were
frequently praised by the mothers for displays of
generosity tended to be slightly less generous on an
everyday basis than other children were. Every time they
had heard, Good sharing! or Im so proud
of you for helping, they became a little less
interested in sharing or helping. Those actions came to
be seen not as something they had to do to get that
reaction from Mommy again. Generosity became a means to
5. Reducing achievement
As if it werent bad enough that Good job! can undermine independence, pleasure, and interest, it can also interfere with how good a job children actually do. Researchers keep finding that kids who are praised for doing well at a creative task tend to stumble at the next taskand they dont so as well as children who werent praised to begin with.
Why does this happen? Partly because the praise creates pressure to keep up the good work that gets in the way of doing so. Partly because their interest in what theyre doing may have declined. Partly because they become less likely to take risksa prerequisite for creativityonce they start thinking about how to keep those positive comments coming.
More generally, Good job! is a remnant of an approach to psychology that reduces all of human life to behaviors that can be seen and measured. Unfortunately, this ignores the thoughts, feelings, and values that lie behind behaviors. For example, a child may share a snack with a friend as a way of attracting praise, or as a way of making sure the other child has enough to eat. Praise for sharing ignores these different motives. Worse, it actually promotes the less desirable motive by making children more likely to fish for praise in the future.
Once you start to see praise for what it isand what it doesthese constant little evaluative eruptions from adults start to produce the same effect as nails being dragged down a blackboard. You begin to root for a child to give his parents a taste of their own treacle by turning around to them and saying (in the same saccharine tone of voice), Good praising!
Still, its not an easy habit to break. It can seem strange, at least at first, to stop praising; it can feel as though youre being chilly or withholding something. But that, it soon becomes clear, suggests that we praise more because we need to say it than because out children need to hear it. Whenever thats true, its time to rethink what were doing.
What kids do need is unconditional support, love with no strings attached. Thats not just different from praiseits the opposite of praise. Good job! is conditional. It means were offering attention and acknowledgment and approval for jumping through hoops, for doing things that please us.
This point, youll notice, is very different from a criticism that some people offer to the effect that we give kids too much approval, or give it too easily. They recommend that we become more miserly with our praise and demand that kids earn it. But the real problem isnt that children expect to be praised for everything they do these days. Its that were tempted to take shortcuts, to manipulate kids with rewards instead of explaining and helping them to develop needed skills and good values.
So whats the alternative?
That depends on the situation, but whatever we decide to
say instead has to be offered in the context of genuine
affection and love for who kids are rather than for what
theyve done. When unconditional support is present,
Good job! isnt necessary; when
its absent, Good job! wont help.
We also need to bring kids in on the process of making decisions. If a child is taking forever to get out the door in the morning, them sitting down with him later and asking, What do you think we can do to solve this problem? will likely be more effective than bribes or threats. It also helps a child learn how to solve problems and teaches that his ideas and feelings are important. Of course, this process takes time and talent, care and courage. Tossing off a Good job! when the child is on time takes none of those things, which helps to explain why doing to strategies are a lot more popular than working with strategies.
And what can we say when our kids
just do something impressive? Consider three possible
Some people insist a helpful act
must be reinforced because, secretly or
unconsciously, they believe it was a fluke. If children
are basically evil, then they have to be given an
artificial reason for being nice (namely, to get a verbal
reward). But, if that cynicism is unfoundedand a
lot of research suggests that it isthen praise may
not be necessary.
A simple, evaluation-free statement
(You put your shoes on by yourself or even
just You did it) tells your child that you
noticed. It also lets her take pride in what she did. In
other cases, a more elaborate description may make sense.
If your child draws a picture, you might provide
feedbacknot judgementabut what you
noticed:This mountain is huge! Boy, you
sure used a lot of purple today!
Even better than descriptions are questions. Why tell him what part of his drawing impressed you the most when you can ask him what he likes best about it? Asking What was the hardest part to draw? or How did you figure out how to make the feet the right size? is likely to nourish his interest in drawing. Saying Good job!, as weve seen, may have exactly the opposite effect.
This doesnt mean that all
compliments, all thank-yous, all expressions of
delight are harmful. We need to consider our motives
for what we say (a genuine expression of enthusiasm is
better than a desire to manipulate the childs
future behavior) as will as the actual effects
of doing so. Are our reactions helping the child to feel
a sense of control over her lifeor to constantly
look to us for approval? Are they helping her to become
more excited about what shes doing in its own
rightor turning into something she just wants to
get through in order to receive a pat on the head?
Here are some of his books, with descriptions from his website
In this video, Alfie talks about what a child might be thinking. In my version of the video, I also address how she might be feeling.
Direct link is http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GiV7bVFNO0k
Wanting to Help Alfie
I want to help Alfie. I feel inspired by him. I admire him. I support him. I support him 10 out of 10. I want to offer him some helpful feedback. Some feelings feedback.
I am afraid he is turning off some people by sounding judgmental.
I am afraiid he is putting some people on the defensive.
I am afraid some or many people, don't feel understood by him.
I am afraid he is losing some of his potential influence by alienating people, judging them.
As he says, what matters is their perception of him.
I am afraid some people feel guilt-tripped, for example when he talks about teachers who don't fight things and say there is nothing they can do.
I am afraid some will feel mocked. Again, not understood.
I offer him my article on "why" - in other words the two motivations for asking why.
Another note is that I would like to understand Alfie's position on compusorly schooling.
Duh! -- Ten Obvious Truths That We Shouldnt
AMERICAN SCHOOL BOARD JOURNAL
By: Alfie Kohn
Make the classroom a community where students feel valued and respected, where care and trust have taken the place of restrictions and threats
Children need classroom community created by themselves and guided by an adult.
Relationship with the adults
Connection between students
Class wide and school wide activities
Using academic instruction
If we are committed to moving beyond discipline, we need an engaging curriculum and a caring community But we need something else as well, the chance for students to make meaningful decisions about their schooling.
10 Tips for Classroom Management
1. Its hard to work to solve a problem with a student unless the two of you already have a relationship.
2. If a caring relationship with each student is a prerequisite for solving problems or resolving conflicts effectively, it in no the only one. Also required is a certain set of skills.
3. The adults role in dealing with an unpleasant situation begins with the need to diagnose what has happened and why.
4. It is even more difficult to consider causes and contexts when that process raises questions about our own practices. We must be willing to look beyond the concrete situation in front of us.
5. When problems happen it is just as critical that we maximize student involvement in deciding how to resolve the conflict.
6. The questions we ask must be open ended, with students encouraged to explore possibilities, reflect on their own motives, disagree, and, in general, construct an authentic solution.
7. We dont need to ignore what the student has done. Instead, she can be assisted in thinking about ways to make restitution or reparations.
8. It is often useful to arrange to check back later to see how a plan worked, whether the problem got solved, whether additional or entirely new strategies may now be needed.
9. Problem solving requires flexibility.
10. Everything should be
done to minimize the punitive impact.