Montessori Primer: Praise and Intrinsic Motivation

In an earlier post, we addressed the Montessori principle of avoidance of extrinsic rewards and cultivation of intrinsic motivation. Today, we dig deeper into this idea, exploring the appropriate role of praise in our interaction with the child.

All parents want their children to be independent, self-reliant, and have the opportunity to be creative. In an effort to support the child, parents often say “good job” for the simplest successes. However, praising interferes with natural learning and come become a form of control. Children learn their actions are celebrated and can begin to perform for adults versus interacting with them.

Here are a few findings about children who are over-praised:

• Praised children do not perform as well as intrinsically motivated children
• Praised children produce lower test results
• Praised children become dependent on others
• Praised children become less successful at tasks

Studies have shown that children’s motivation, creativity, social interactions, and overall cognitive functioning are negatively affected by extrinsic rewards and false praise. Children know when they deserve the praise or recognition for a job well done – they also understand when do not deserve it. Many times children will stop performing or begin acting out because they feel there is no standard they must reach.

Instead, encourage your child. Encouragement is powerful self-esteem boosting tool. Focus on:
Effort“What a great effort you made today!”
Improvement“Wow, you did five more sit-ups today.”
Contribution and Involvement“Your team worked well together today. I saw you work together with Johnny on that play that scored.”
Confidence“I can see how proud you are.”

As a parent, it is difficult to know the fine line between appropriate praise and encouragement. Instead of praise, find opportunities to intrinsically motivate your child. Be specific on what you are complimenting about to your child. For example, instead of saying “Great job on that picture!”, say “I really like how you took your time to color in the lines.” Instead of saying “Good work!”, say ” It looks like you really tried to use your best handwriting on this piece of work.”

So remember…we should encourage and display gratitude instead of praising the smallest tasks. Your children will thank you for it later in life!

For more information on this topic, please read “Five Reasons to Stop Saying ‘Good Job’” by Alfie Kohn, a leading author and speaker on education, parenting, and human behavior.

Please join us on Friday as we discuss How to Reach Joyful Obedience.