A little appreciation does wonders

Ranjeeta Prajapati

Good job! Excellent! Great!
You are smart! You are intelligent!

Do these praises sound real? Are they too generic to make a difference to the child? Can they help raise the child’s confidence level?

I recall how my friends and I used to wait for that one worked of praise from our teachers. Good job! That entire day we would be on cloud nine.

It was different for my parents. During PTMs when they would critique my performance, my teachers would respond to them saying she is doing good! She is intelligent. They however were not satisfied and wanted to know what I was good at and the areas that I needed to improve in. My parents never got answers to their questions.

When I started my career as an educator, I too began to follow this same pattern.

During one PTM when I was talking to a parent and I said the same words, the parent stopped me and asked, “Kindly tell in which specific area my child is good and where do you want her to improve.”

Illustrations: Laksha Prajapati

It stuck me that these vague, generic praises have little meaning. They do not present a clear picture.

I then decided to maintain a logbook to record my remarks specifying the reason for the praise. Over a period of time, as I altered my pattern, I realized that these specific remarks brought change in the students’ behaviour. They felt they were being noticed. I too felt more connected with them. The parents were also happy. They had a clear picture of where their child was doing good and where he needed to improve.

Many of us use these kinds of unclear and generic praises with children. They may be nice to hear but they do little else. They do not even inform the child which specific behaviour brought him success.

“Praise is the simplest and most powerful tool to engage and motivate children”.

There are some who believe that praise will spoil children or will make them high headed and so avoid praise. And there are those who have such high expectations of children that we seldom see the positives, and therefore avoid praise again.

On the other hand, there are also people who do not tire of praising. And, too much of anything, as we know, is seldom good.

So, there needs to be a balance. If we use this powerful tool efficaciously it can do wonders. It can improve the child’s behaviour and improve the child’s attitude towards learning. To quote the researcher Carol Dweck, “The wrong kind of praise creates self defeating behaviour. The right praise motivates children to learn.”

Some points to keep in mind while praising:
a) Notice the effort.
b) Make eye contact and smile while praising.
c) Be sincere and specific.
d) Describe the behaviour you want to reinforce.
e) Do not combine praise with negative words. Avoid the word “but” immediately after a compliment.

To quote Dweck from her book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, “Students who receive praise for their intelligence with statements such as …You are smart, You are intelligent…. exhibit a fixed mindset. Praise must always be connected to the process, rather than student intelligence. Praising their effort exhibits a growth mindset”.

And, before we close, effective praise is not only required when a child accomplishes a task but an encouraging word is required when he fails to accomplish a task. So, swallow the disappointments when they don’t get success rather help them pivot into problem solving mode and prepare them for the next challenge.

The author has been working in the field of education for 20 years now. She was the academic coordinator for kindergarten for 16 years in a reputed institution. She is also the author of three books. Her most recent book My Poetry… My Feelings (1 & 2) is available for sale on Flipkart. She can be reached at ranjeetaprajapati.vns@gmail.com.

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