Research in the book Nurture Shock: New Thinking about Children by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman shows what Maria Montessori saw years ago – that we don’t need to praise our children for everything they do. We don’t need to continually reward our children or tell them how smart and talented they are.
As a matter of fact, telling our children how smart and talented they are can create the opposite of what we want. It can make our children afraid to attempt new things, afraid of failure, afraid they won’t meet everyone’s expectations.
What does the research suggest? When we praise, it’s best for the praise to be related to the effort our children made. For praise to be effective, it also needs to be specific and sincere.
So, how exactly does the research fit with Montessori philosophy?
Note: This post was originally published in June 2011. It’s so important that I don’t want it to be lost. So I’ve updated it a bit and republished it. You’ll see some children here who’ve done a lot of growing up since 2011. The photo of my daughter is much older (from 1992, so she’s now 27 instead of 1½ … and she’s an adult with wonderful values and self-discipline)!
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NurtureShock: New Thinking About Children by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman
Principles of A Montessori Approach to Praise
1. In Montessori education, there aren’t rewards and punishments. Maria Montessori believed in the child’s inner need to do productive work. Sensitive periods provide an internal urge and stronger reinforcement than any rewards or praise could do.
“The essence of independence is to be able to do something for one’s self. Adults work to finish a task, but the child works in order to grow, and is working to create the adult, the person that is to be.” Maria Montessori
2. Montessorians don’t give children lavish praise. The child’s work is highly valued in Montessori education, and praise that is given is typically specific praise emphasizing effort. “You really worked hard at that.” “You did that activity four times in a row!” In an article at Maria Montessori, Bobby and June George give the idea of saying simply, “You did it!”
3. Montessorians try to give encouragement rather than praise or descriptive rather than evaluative praise. Instead of saying, “You’re a good boy,” a Montessorian might say, “It really helped when you put away all the dishes.”
4. Montessorians try to help children do things themselves and gain self-confidence. Many of the Montessori materials have a control of error so that the child can tell immediately if an activity is done correctly. An external source of approval isn’t necessary.
5. Through Montessori control of error, children develop order, concentration, coordination, and independence. Those are all qualities that make children self-confident and capable of listening to their own inner voice.
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