Archive for category Language

Praise Cripples Youth

“What a good job you’re doing,” the teacher says, as a three-year-old girl puts on her shoe. “Look how good your doing sitting there” a parent says to her one-year old sitting in an adult size wooden chair. “Good job,” a nanny says to a three year old who is asked to pick up the train set. And she continues to say it for each time he stops to bend over to pick up the tracks and trains. What a “good job,” “that is so…beautiful,” the parent repeats to her four year old showing a painting she worked on. Spend any significant time around places where adults and kids are mingling and count the amount of “good jobs” being slung around, without much questioning to the crippling impact it can have on the natural development of a children. Will incessant praise raise children who are secure, confident, self-reliant, and critical with their thinking?

Culturally, we are a praised craze society; we simple endure it and don’t put much question or assessment into this use of language and the effect it has on the natural development of a child. When a child is swimming in praise from adults, after completing a painting or constructing a Lego ship, this then becomes a continually sought out validation, as a sense of security and self-esteem, begin to fall by the wayside. When we really listen to why we use praise, we can then revaluate its effect on the development on a child.

Praise are temporary rewards offered by the one doing the praising, usually because they think a child automatically needs it or to get a child to comply with their whishes. Either verbally, through bribery, or food, praise may lead to a quick approval rating gauged by the adults, but are we the ones who should measuring their outcome?

A kid in our preschool class is taking a violin class and comments that he “has been goofing off,” when I ask him what he likes about violin class. He also mentions that he likes receiving candy. Over hearing a conversation later in the day that the father has with the violin instructor, I hear the father encouraging the violin teacher to use gum, as a means to get the boy to follow instruction, instead of “goofing off.” The boy’s father also remarks to the violin instructor, how this method seems to work at home.

Lets rephrase the question differently; if adults went around praising each other after each time we used the potty, tied or shoes, or cleaned off our plate after supper, or offer candy for doing a chore, would we not question their motive? We might even think the person has some sort of social anxiety. Yet, there are adults who saturate kids with ooey, gooey, dripping praise that just may get a kid stuck, waiting for the adult for the full approval.

At the preschool I teach at we are careful not to inject praise in to our language. A visiting teacher was not aware of our philosophy concerning use of language and the effects of praise, and spent the day going around praising preschoolers with the “good job,” to the point other kids not receiving direct praise would make comments – “what about me.”

Alfie Kohn an outspoken author on several books on education and parenting, explains it well in Five Reasons to Stop Saying “Good Job!” (YOUNG CHILDREN, September 2001):

In short, “Good job!” doesn’t reassure children; ultimately, it makes them feel less secure. It may even create a vicious circle such that the more we slather on the praise, the more kids seem to need it, and so we praise them some more. Sadly, some of these kids will grow into adults who continue to need someone else to pat them on the head and tell them whether what they did was OK. Surely this is not what we want for our daughters and sons.

But with all of this critique on what many consider praise as positive re-enforcement for children, what are the alternatives? And why are these ways of communicating with youth more effective to empowering self-reliance and critical thinking?
Kohn has developed some strategies, which are useful when kids are wanted some sort of validation or approval, as developmentally they naturally look up to adults.

Say what you saw. 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 feedback – not judgment – about what you noticed: “This mountain is huge!” “Boy, you sure used a lot of purple today!”

If a child does something caring or generous, you might gently draw his attention to the effect of his action on the other person: “Look at Abigail’s face! She seems pretty happy now that you gave her some of your snack.” This is completely different from praise, where the emphasis is on how you feel about her sharing

Talk less, ask more. Even better than descriptions are questions. Why tell him what part of his drawing impressed you 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 we’ve seen, may have exactly the opposite effect.

Kids constantly want to impress teachers or parents, and we need to take caution in not abusing this idolizing. We’re bombarded everyday with, “look what I can do or look what I just did,” and it is easy to just say, “good job or that’s great!” But as loving adults in a child’s life we don’t want to take away their pleasure in self-discovery, nor do we want to cut them sort on their own entitlement of self-accomplishment.

And with the child who is “goofing off “ during violin class; we need to revaluate why he acting this way, instead of the father and teacher wanting to find a convenient obedient short cut. Is he behaving this way because violin class does not provide the movement he needs, as a five-year old boy? Is it because he is not interested in sitting for thirty minutes and is searching for alternative ways to interact? At least this is looking at the needs of the child, rather than advocating for bribery or buttering him with praise, to curve an undesired behavior. This is a quick, convenient, remedial approach that will wear out in due time. Instead of the approach of bribery why not take the time out, to simply ask the child if he wants to continue to go to violin class.

In short, praise is a quick fix solution that does not support self-autonomy and confidence, but rather places judgment. Surely we don’t want this sort of influence on kids, when they are the leaders of tomorrow.

Preschool Punks. All rights reserved. For permission to reprint/publish, please contact Paul at



Dare Not to Say The Word “No” to Kids

“No”…I belt out as William plows over Marc, who is almost 2 years younger from the back. You can almost hear the impact and it stands up the hair on the back of my neck, worrying whether or not Marc now has a dismembered vertebrae. But his resilient body bouncing back up on his feet reassures the incident would not require a rush to the E.R. “Shit…” I comment to my self I meant to say STOP, but at the point of impact on Marc’s back by Williams palm at ramming speed; I could have said worst things.

After all, the Director of the school asked that we experiment as teachers to refrain from using of the word “no.” And so, I began my further inquiry into getting to know this word “no.”

For some kids “no” is the first word they sling out of their mouth, and as adults we pay reverence to this. Until, their “no” comments begin to sound like a broken record. And into our adult years the “no” word becomes a word of habit, like an uncontrollable hiccup.

Should we reconsider our use of the word “no” when communicating with children and what sort of impact does the sort of language have on them psychologically and emotionally?

“No” is an ends without the means. In other words telling a child no, on a constant bases places them in a position of disempowerment, confusion, and fear, without a rational and respectful explanation. Saying, “no, please don’t do that,” or “no…writing on the walls,” or “no…standing on the table,” only restricts their freedom to follow their intrinsic interests to want to explore. Over use of the word can back children into a corner, feeling uncertain as to what they can and cannot not do, while putting a punitive tone on language. “No” puts youth in a bind, blurring the line of what they can and cannot do, much like a person being subjected to tyranny. And this can carry negative connotations, to how they behave, often finding ways to explore behind the parent or teachers back. “No” can carry an authoritarian tone and as adults we need to mindful of this. And kids can commonly explain why a behavior may or may not be a “good” idea, when giving the time to ask them.

As adults we can begin by questioning how often we tell our friends or family “no?” And then question why we would consider using the word “no,” when speaking with youth?

Can “no” have a place in certain situations?

Slipping the “N” word on a child is easy to do when they are about to throw a large rock at a classmate or blindly walk into the street – anything to stop a behavior if it is entirely unsafe. Some schools have steered away from the “N” word and for good reason. Our school concentrates on replacing “no” with “stop.” The children and adults at the school often apply the word “stop” to place emphasis on a behavior they do not agree with. “Stop” is usually followed up on the feelings and reasons why, one person is asking another person to cut something out. For example, a kid may say: “stop it…it does not make me feel good.” And an adult can say: “stop throwing the wood chips at people…I am concerned someone could get hurt.” These are all situations where safety is a general concern and the kids often use this language when they are stuck in uncomfortable situations. And we are all really cautious just to use the word “stop” when only necessary.

When the word “no” on the other hand is flung around like dung, as I have seen it with my own sister’s interaction with her kids, I notice how my nephews and nieces sit on a fence, wondering if they are “right or wrong.” My sister is a deeply compassionate woman who has taught for years, but I don’t think she has paused long enough to actually hear her self, as “no” easily becomes a habitual word. And this use of the word “no” does not distinguish ourselves from the language pet owners and pet trainers use frequently to talk to animals.

Saying no, to the use of the word “no,” can be a valuable lesson in how we relate to kids. The kids at the school rarely use the word “no,” with one another. And the relationship with adults at the school is quite positive; they know what the rules are because they have come up with them their selves. If the word “no” frequently pops up in your interaction with young people, then dare your self to stay clear of the word for a period of time. And then take note of the changes ahead.

Preschool Punks. All rights reserved. For permission to reprint/publish, please contact Paul at


Poops The Word: At Preschool

Poop is a popular topic of conversation at preschool. The poop word is flying everywhere lately in our classroom, and it is as contagious as the common cough. Everything amounts to poop; even the snack time can be full of the use of the word. A painting becomes poopy, a glob of sand is a poopy castle, a felt princess is a poopy princess, and if the teacher gets on their nerves, a teacher can become instantly poopy. And as a teacher there are time where the poop talk really hits the fan – and enough is enough!

Poop has always maintained the social status of a rather unusual but fascinating topic of conversation, ever since humans first defecated. Even adults have had their giggles over the poop dialogue. But working in a preschool classroom the poop talk starts to really stink after prolonged talk of it.

As teachers, we will ask if, “they need to use the bathroom,” after we had our fill of it. We don’t label it as “potty talk,” but this would be a logical place to make those comments. Usually the answer is “no,” and we quickly fire back with, “then please stop.”

Were not out to incriminate them for their language or to make a major fuss over their use of language, but to at least steer them back into another topic – anything but poop.
Exploring and understanding bodily functions is a natural stage of development and how else then through the use of words. This we take into consideration, as ignoring it most of the time is more healthy and effective developmentally then “correcting.” Preschools should provide a place for poop dialogue to unravel, as this approach is less harmful then restricting it. And for some of us, we’ll never out grow the topic of poop.

Preschool Punks. All rights reserved. For permission to reprint/publish, please contact Paul at