Saturday, February 18, 2012


Delighted I read Anna's "personal note on rewards, praise and punishment". We have made similar experiences too, throughout our childhood and now with Leander. Of course we were excited when he did his first steps. He was too. But we didn't clap our hands. And that's the difference.

In an Austrian magazine there was a very important article about the so called "overprotected child". It was all about how parents nowadays hover around their children trying to protect them from every accident and every little stumble or fall. By doing so instead of keeping them safe they are holding them from the absolute necessary experiences of balance, height, speed etc. Those children don't learn their own limits, they don't know their own body and become insecure. And then experience accidents (maybe later in life) as a result of the overprotection. By being so well watched and put in classes and courses rather than taken on trips to the woods or the park children become dependent and passive, they can't develop self confidence and self esteem.

That's what Emmi Pikler and Magda Gerber both observed and included in their work. That's what the parent-infant-playgroup is about (amongst other topics): to sit and observe, not watch your child in a security kind of job, but with interest: "Where is my child right now?" (development), "What does he like, enjoy, can or is he trying to achieve?" To then follow this observation knowing what I can do or offer to let him explore free and self motivated in an appropriate environment at his very own stage of development.

A very good and important article that was. Up to the point where the psychologist Lieselotte Ahnert says, that parents need to praise their children, when they achieve something new. That this is the "drive children need to continue learning." And I disagree. If a child does not know praise for developmental steps he is going to achieve at some point anyway (considering he is healthy) he will not need it to get going. What he needs is the company of parents who actively "see" what the child is achieving and what effort went into this, who value the process and who enjoy this moment with their child. Not by clapping and sitting him on this imaginery throne but by simply laughing with him, hugging him or offering words for what just happened. "I am so happy for you!" - so simple, so light yet so true and honest.

Elsewhere in the article it is mentioned that when achieving a milestone or goal children (or people in general) experience joy and happyness which again leads to the release of dopamine, a very important neurotransmitter. Dopamine then encourages the continuation of that learning process. I think we all know how happy we continue a work that has just reached a new milestone we've been working on for ages. But to make sure this dopamine is released a child does not need praise, it just needs joy and happyness. Of course we can somehow almost stop this cycle by not reacting at all to this joy. But we mustn't overreact neither. It's enough to smile, nod or laugh.

Now is it so bad if I praise my child out of some inner drive? No it's not I'd say carefully. If a mother really has the need to shout "Wow super!" it is not that bad. If this does not become routine because then this "Wow super!" can become the drive the child one day really needs and does things not to for the sake of it but to be praised. And THIS can be counterproductive because then we raise little zoo animals that hop through a loop for a piece of cake.

And that's why I don't like articles like these where such lines like "The parents' praise is the drive a child needs to continue learning." might become the core of the whole point they were trying to make. And that was the one about the problem of overprotection if you remember. You don't? See - that's what I mean.

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