I am still gathering my thoughts after reading this insightful book by John Holt about how young children can and will learn by themselves. (Learn more about the book here.)
There is a section where he explains that children that are praised or punished a lot will lose their inherent motivation to learn and discover, and develop a fear of failure.
I don’t want that for my children. My goal with homeschooling has always been to teach them a love of learning. According to John Holt, I don’t even have to do that, all I have to do is not destroy the desire that they already have.
What children want and need from us is thoughtful attention. They want us to notice them and pay some kind of attention to what they do, to take them seriously, to trust and respect them as human beings. They want courtesy and politeness, but they don’t need much praise. (John Holt – Learning All the Time)
I think my toddler has been trying to tell me this for a while. He is always asking me, “what am I doing, mommy?” or some variation thereof. Perhaps I need to be more proactive about acknowledging him, even when distracted by his baby brother.
The not praising practice will be a difficult habit to break for me. I was raised in a reward\praise system, and perhaps did not receive enough of it because I was always striving for more.
My two older brothers had the opposite, where they were satisfied with the occasional praise… Good job passing that English class! Where as I felt barely acknowledged for (almost) getting straight As.
You could say the system worked for me. I received a masters degree in accounting. I worked as a CPA until I became a stay at mom. I am married and have a beautiful family. One of my older brothers still delivers pizza, while the other is slightly better off. But there I go comparing, and how can you truly compare happiness?
But I don’t want my kids to experience either of these extremes, I want them to be motivated because they WANT to learn about something, or WANT to be good at something.
So instead of always saying “good job” or “that’s not right” I just need to acknowledge what they are doing and not jump in the middle of it. I need to learn to let them be themselves, not who I want them to be.
It’s going to be a challenge to change the way we do things at home, but I’m going to start small and work my way up to it.
A common style of conversation at our house goes as follows:
Mr. 3: What am I doing mommy?
Me: I don’t know sweetheart, what ARE you doing?
Mr. 3: I’m building a garage on wheels!
Me: Ooh, that’s great.
Mr. 3: I built a garage on wheels!
Me: Good Job!
My goal for this week is to end the conversation differently. Not to praise, but to acknowledge and get him to talk more about it.
Mr. 3: I built a garage on wheels!
Me: I see, you are parking all the cars inside the garage!
I know there are a few good books about unconditional parenting, so I should probably check out some of them to get a better understanding of how to put this into practice. Feel free to leave me a suggestion if you have a favorite book. I am also interested in finding out how you convinced your significant others to implement the same parental practices. Consistency is important, after all.
Also, I would like to thank my husband for taking care of me this weekend while I was sick. I don’t know how you managed to do the dishes, fix the laundry doors, install the rain barrel, mow the lawn, pull weeds, take care of the kids and take care of me. You are amazing.
By the way, the book Learning All the Time by John Holt is only $2.99 on Amazon. (Affiliate link, but who wouldn’t?)