Wendell was just seventeen months old. His parents decided to assemble a toddler bed for him because he was climbing out of his crib. To keep an eye on him in the process, Wendell’s parents thought to bring in his wooden rocking horse. Wendell was apprehensive about getting on the horse at first. He’d raise his hands and ask, “Up?” At this urging, his mother picked him up and put him on the horse. Wendell rocked once, twice and then jumped off the horse. This happened over and over again and both parents took turns catering to Wendell’s wish to get back on the horse. Both parents looked at each other and said, “This is wrong.” The next time Wendell urged to be put back on the horse, his parents urged him to get on himself. He tried, didn’t quite make it and started to whine. Both parents ignored the whining and urged him to try again. When Wendell made it up on the horse, both parents applauded and clapped their hands in praise, saying “Yeah!” Wendell rocked once, twice and then jumped off the horse again. He climbed right back on, clapped proudly for himself and exclaimed, “Yeah!” Both parents chimed in. Wendell got off the horse and right back on, repeating his plea for recognition. This is an exaggerated but true example of the effects of constant praise.
Constant praise has the potential to create two opposing phenomena. A child can learn to move only upon praise or he may learn to think everything he does is great. In the first case, the child will only do things if they know it will please others. In the second case, the child thinks he knows everything and can do no wrong.
Consistent praise, on the other hand, is more specific and genuine praise. Yes we can praise Wendell for getting on his horse well, but once that is mastered we can praise him for staying on the horse. Once that is mastered, we can praise him for putting his horse away. Consistent praise is given when milestones occur and mastery is displayed. Milestones and mastery of skills change over the course of a lifetime. The praise will be there for having learned to brush teeth, fold clothes, set the table, hug a sibling who is sad, share a toy, master adding single-digit numbers then double digit numbers, tell stories for a storytelling contest, drive out of the driveway without hitting the trashcan and so on. That’s what makes it consistent.
With consistent praise, children learn that things like perseverance, organization, consideration and kindness will make Mom and Dad proud. Motivation to learn new things becomes innate. Confidence in independence is fostered. What more can we ask for?