The other possibility comes when a child enjoys something, we often praise him to get him interested in doing it again and all of a sudden, he does not want to try any more. This is often the product of praise. When we praise our children, we think we are doing the right thing. We want to encourage them and let them know that they are amazing, but sadly, praise is one of the fastest ways to inhibit a child’s natural interest and curiosity. Here is an example: A parent of a pre-school child saw that her child had drawn an incredibly accurate picture of a bear. The child had been happily drawing, oblivious to everything around her. She showed the picture to her mum and since it was the very first thing she had drawn that was easily recognizable, her mum praised her and told her what a great job she had done. Later, Mum asked her if she would draw another one and she quickly sat down to begin to draw. And at that moment she became stuck. She started a number of times but quickly scrunched up her attempts and started again. She was trying really hard to duplicate what she had done before, that earned so much praise, but it just didn’t work. Eventually she just gave up and went to play with something else. It was clear that she now felt that she must perform well to earn praise, rather than simply draw for the love if it.
We often see this at school. And the older children grow, if working for praise is a part of their life, trying something new that they may fail at becomes much, much harder. At this point the child will do exactly what is asked and no more, for fear of being wrong. Risk-taking disappears. When children are not praised routinely, we see that they are more inclined to explore, learn and participate for the love of learning rather than for external validation. When I see a student working away at something I will often ask them how it feels for them to accomplish the task. Most often I will see their eyes light up as they tell me all about their project or accomplishment. I then comment that it sounds like they are having a lot of fun doing that and they readily agree. It is clear that it is not about what I think, but about how they feel about what they have done. Similarly, when a child takes a risk and it does not go well, as teachers and parents we need to focus on the feelings and let them know that trying something is much more important than the result. That way, the fear of trying something new and being okay with not being great at it allow children to want to learn for the intrinsic reward of their own feelings of accomplishment and self-satisfaction.