Parents are naturally looking for ways to strengthen the bond with their child whilst also supporting them to be independent and confident individuals. Praising a child is often our go-to in our parent tool kit and is ingrained in our vocabulary and expressions.
Phrases such as “good job” and “well done” are often on the tip of our tongues. However, these well-intentioned remarks often result in a child relying on adult praise for validation and motivation e.g. when we praise a child for putting on their jacket, we are really applauding that they did what we wanted. A child’s will has been substituted for that of the adult.
An alternative is to ensure that praise is specific and focuses on effort. Although this is also so frequently used that it confuses a child about their own self-worth. They are unable to judge for themselves how good they are at something since they are always being told they are doing well. It can also make a child afraid to attempt new things since they fear failure and falling short of expectations.
How does Montessori ‘praise’ and how can we make the switch?
Within Montessori we do not praise a child as much as we do not reward or punish. Parents are helping a child create an inner order and discipline rooted in trust.
Be specific with words of affirmation and encouragement.
It is the child’s work that is highly valued in Montessori. Any praise that is given should only be in very special moments and focus on the specific action or effort. Affirm and encourage your child e.g. “You really worked hard on that puzzle to put all the pieces in.” Or simply, “You did it!”
Trust the child and the process.
Maria Montessori believed a child is being guided by their intrinsic motivation. Completing activities offers internal joy for a child. Many of the Montessori materials have a control of error where a child can tell if they are done correctly. This boosts self-confidence and eliminates any need for external approval.
Seeking approval or connection?
It is often good enough for a child to know that you saw them in ‘that’ moment. They feel acknowledged without the need for approval. You can ask your child to tell you more about what they are doing but be prepared to listen to their recount. A simple exchange of “thank you” for effort goes a long way in lessons of grace, courtesy and social etiquette.
Step back completely.
There are occasions when it is best to offer nothing: just observe. Activities such as painting, singing and dancing provide a safe space for a child to explore and experiment freely without intervention.
Allow time for your child's awareness to emerge.
As a child nears the age of three they begin to become conscious of how their actions affect others. Offer patience with your child as they begin their journey of self-realisation that will last for life.
So how does a child know that they are on the right path?
Answer - they feel it!
They measure their own progress with help of the materials and the prepared environment. Here they are developing all the wonderful skills of critical thinking, self-discipline, self-worth and inner motivation.