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On Parenting
Posted at 07:00 AM ET, 01/17/2012

With excess praise losing favor, vindication for Tiger Mom?

Overpraising children is under attack, which is interesting because almost exactly a year ago, one mother’s philosophy of withholding praise was receiving the same treatment.

Yesterday, The Post’s Michael Alison Chandler wrote about a trend in which teachers refrain from showering kids with “Good try!” at every turn.
Studies show that easy, unearned praise interferes with students’ learning. (Jupiterimages - GETTY IMAGES/BRAND XR)

“A growing body of research over three decades shows that easy, unearned praise does not help students but instead interferes with significant learning opportunities. As schools ratchet up academic standards for all students, new buzzwords are ‘persistence,’ ‘risk-taking’ and ‘resilience’ — each implying more sweat and strain than fuzzy, warm feelings,” Chandler writes.

It just so happens that the supposed outcome of overpraising kids was lampooned over the weekend in a talk-show sketch on NBC’s “Saturday Night Live” titled “You Can Do Anything!”

The sketch, which has some not-for-kids language, features hosts who gush over their spectacularly untalented and overconfident guests. One guy sings terribly and proudly; another, after dancing and scribbling what is supposed to be Chinese calligraphy, announces triumphantly, “I went to a school with no grades!” All the guests are then promised an award for “best guest.”

It’s a hilarious sketch that gets at a serious point. Another way of putting it:

“We used to think we could hand children self-esteem on a platter. That has backfired,” Carol Dweck, a Stanford University psychologist, told Chandler.

So now, certain students, including some in Montgomery County, are becoming used to their less-than-stellar work meeting awkward silences rather than “Great effort!”

Many readers of Chandler’s piece responded in the comments that being honest about children’s achievements (or lack thereof) is the obvious approach and should have been embraced long ago. They, like the “Saturday Night Live” writers, say the harm done is clear.

So are we all in agreement? Less praise?

I wonder if this is a better mantra: “Once a child starts to excel at something — whether it’s math, piano, pitching or ballet — he or she gets praise, admiration and satisfaction. This builds confidence and makes the once not-fun activity fun. This in turn makes it easier for the parent to get the child to work even more.”

Makes sense, no?

Except . . . that’s a line from Amy Chua’s piece in The Wall Street Journal, published one year ago almost to the day. The essay was excerpted from the book “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother” (Penguin Press, January 2011) and ignited a storm of protest from parents who viewed as cruel her method of withholding praise until it is earned.

So now, a year later, after more research and a devastating comedy sketch, has it turned out that Chua was right? Should we demand more of our kids and toss back their mediocre efforts? Or is there a middle ground?

If so, what is it?

Related content:

‘Good Enough’ parenting or perfect parenting

Over-parenting: Is it something only other parents do?

Top parenting stories of the year

By  |  07:00 AM ET, 01/17/2012

Tags:  Books, Childhood Development, Mental Health

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