Wednesday, 8 July 2009

Positive parenting

When Sally was a toddler I read a parenting manual that really struck a chord. The gist of the advice was this - heap lavish praise on everything you want a child to do, ignore (as far as possible) behaviour you don't want to continue. Given the fact that most children love attention, this made perfect sense. Every teacher knows this is why many kids can be disruptive (even if they sometimes fail to do anything about it). The approach worked with Sally like a dream. She'd soon get bored if we ignored her tantrums (which were silent anyway, with her little bum stuck in the air!) and the more we praised, the more she did what we praised her for. It seemed natural to try the same with Charlie now he's at an age when he can understand (and more than he lets on, too!).
Angel that he is, Charlie can be quite mischievous. He likes to throw things off his high chair, for a start. And he'll taunt whoever's watching him by slowly holding out his sippy cup, for instance, waiting 'til he's got your full attention, before dropping it to the floor. And he won't take 'no' for an answer. Oh no! So, bring on the lavish praise. 'Thank-you Charlie' I'll repeat, effusively, whenever the cup moves back towards his tray. 'Good boy!' I exclaim as he places it down again and carries on with his lunch. 'Well done, what a good boy!' I continue, and it clearly works. He likes the praise. He grins from ear to ear and chortles contentedly as he carries on munching for a minute in a satisfied manner. There's no doubt at all he likes the feedback that he's getting. Oh yes! So much so that - half-a-minute later - he's holding out the cup again for a repeat performance.
This is happening more and more, and appears to reveal a fatal flaw in this (otherwise excellent) philosophy of childcare. If kids really do like praise so much, and if they're praised so readily for turning away from acts of mischief, then what's to stop them repeating such behaviour again and again?
Or am I doing it all wrong?
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