In praise of…well, praise (2/25/2015)

I have often marveled how teachers could do it. Not just the keeping a classroom of children occupied or trying to keep track of how many kids have gone to the restroom, either. I have always been in awe of those good teachers who really inspire their students to learn.

Homeschooling has made me realize there’s even more to teaching than I originally imagined.

Cole’s program is fairly straight forward and he’s able to work fairly independently, asking me questions on my lunch break or when I am done with my work for the day.

Lamar questioned if he was actually learning. I assured him he was.

Until Cole came to me one evening.

“I don’t feel like I am getting the full learning package,” he announced.

“How so?” I asked, concerned.

“I don’t know if this home schooling thing is giving me the whole experience.”

“What do you feel like is missing?”

See, Mama, that master’s in psychology is paying off.

“I don’t know exactly,” was his answer. “Can I have some time to think about it and get back to you?”

I told him I would wait for his response, which came after he watched a new episode of “Adventure Time.”

“I miss the social aspects of school,” he began. “I miss my friends.”

I understood. Even though he is the progeny of two introverts, he is quite outgoing and social.

“And, I miss knowing I am doing good,” he added.

“What do you mean?”

If he meant behavior, I honestly couldn’t ask for a better child. I know he was sometimes reprimanded for talking in class, but he gets that honestly.

“I mean, I miss the stickers and the rewards I would get. And Ms. Robin and Ms. Bowen always told me when I did really well on something. They would…what’s the word?”

“Praise?” I offered.

“Yeah, praise. It made me feel really good. It made my spark happy.”

His spark being his tenderhearted spirit.

“I don’t praise you enough?”

“Mama, you do praise me, but, it’s stuff about I did a good job on a drawing or made you something – I feel like you are saying those things to make me feel better. I want to know I did a good job on something because I did; not because I did it and you’re my mom. I learn better when I know what I did right.”

And isn’t that what we all do?

I mean, honestly, has anyone telling you what you messed up made you do better at it? I have been criticized ad nauseam before; it makes me shut down and paralyzes me to the point I can’t even focus because I am so dingdang scared I will make another mistake again. I even wonder if my breathing patterns are correct.

But tell me: “Hey, this was excellent; I love the way you did this,” and I will know what to do again.

If I were to take a guess, it is probably why the most effective theories in psychology used some sort of reward system, where the desired behavior was rewarded, reinforcing what the individual was trying to repeat.

When mistakes – or the undesired behavior – was punished in some way, it didn’t make the subject perform the desired behavior. It just created more of the same.

Why? Because it’s hard for something good to come from an environment of negativity. It can be done, it’s just not conducive.

Criticism doesn’t have to be bad, but the manner and tone in which it’s delivered can affect its message.

If all someone hears is what they are doing wrong, eventually they wonder why they even try.

If the criticism is presented as ‘hey, this will make what you did better,” it makes the medicine easier to take.

I thought of how Cole responded to my praise in the past.

When I commented: “Wow! Look how neat your penmanship is!” on how his handwriting had improved, it made him beam from ear to ear; from then on, he made a conscientious effort to have neat handwriting.

I’m the same way. I have cleaned once or twice (yes, it has happened, it just sadly hasn’t been witnessed by anyone other than my husband and child) and when Lamar bragged on me, I tried to do better.

Hence the second occurrence. It made me feel like I had done something right for a change.

When I tried to clean for the ex, all he noticed was the spots I missed, which is why I told him where to put the feather duster.

We all are pretty simple people, really. We want to know when we have done something right, so we can do it again. It makes others happy, and that in turn, makes us happy when we know we’ve done something good.

“If I praised you more – sincerely praised you – would that help?” I asked.

He nodded.

“As long as when I mess up you don’t go all ‘Scary Mama’ on me like you do to Daddy when he does something.”

I promised I wouldn’t.

In fact, I swore to myself, I’d find something to praise – instead of criticize – in everything and everyone I could.

http://www.dawsonnews.com/section/30/article/16129/

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