Re: Inverse praise, revisited

1

Great post! You're a really good blogger Heebie!


Posted by: AcademicLurker | Link to this comment | 08- 3-13 7:06 AM
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I can't let the masterful spacing of the letters in this post pass without notice.


Posted by: Mister Smearcase | Link to this comment | 08- 3-13 7:14 AM
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I really suck at positive reinforcement, giving and receiving. It's a big problem at work because you really can't do much negative reinforcement like I'm used to.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 08- 3-13 7:18 AM
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You worked so hard on this, heebie!


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 08- 3-13 7:23 AM
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This is something I think about with Rory because (a) she is smart; (b) she knows it; and (c) she really doesn't have to make much effort to succeed academically. Mostly, I just try to remind her that some day she is going to hit the wall and things will be hard so now is a good time to seek out difficult tasks so she can practice how to struggle.


Posted by: Di Kotimy | Link to this comment | 08- 3-13 7:39 AM
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This is something I think about with Rory because (a) she is smart; (b) she knows it; and (c) she really doesn't have to make much effort to succeed academically. Mostly, I just try to remind her that some day she is going to hit the wall and things will be hard so now is a good time to seek out difficult tasks so she can practice how to struggle.


Posted by: Di Kotimy | Link to this comment | 08- 3-13 7:39 AM
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For example, I encourage her to try to comment on blogs without double posting.


Posted by: Di Kotimy | Link to this comment | 08- 3-13 7:41 AM
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I remember being hungry for praise growing up, but the example I remember most saliently (including trying to prompt it a second time) was in a very non-academic setting. I suppose I might have been used to it in school.


Posted by: Minivet | Link to this comment | 08- 3-13 7:43 AM
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Mad props to neb for capturing this so succinctly with his "Praise the qualities of the person you think needs it most" from the Sadistic Games thread.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 08- 3-13 8:14 AM
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10

3: Can you clicker train your subordinates?


Posted by: ydnew | Link to this comment | 08- 3-13 8:19 AM
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I've heard this -- the you shouldn't praise your kids bit -- but I don't know if I've ever bought it.

I don't remember ever getting any positive feedback as a kid, not from anyone: not my parents, not my teachers, not my bosses when I started getting jobs (I got my first job at 11. It wasn't in a coal mine, I promise.).

It was all negative -- yelled at/trouble when I got it wrong, and silence otherwise.

I'm just thinking that's the wrong way to raise kids. It certainly felt awful at the time, anyway. And it didn't make me want to work hard or get anything right. It just made me want to dodge my parents / teachers / bosses as much as possible.

Graduate school was where I started getting positive feed back and abundant praise from all my professors. Oddly enough, graduate school was where I started to shine.

So, yeah, I give my kid, and my students, lots and lots of praise when they get shit right. Which is not to say I don't give, ah, constructive criticism when they get it wrong. But I'm VERY SWEET about it.


Posted by: delagar | Link to this comment | 08- 3-13 8:31 AM
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When I saw 9, I thought JP must have been confused, since that could only have been a Knecht comment. (If it had gone on to offer such praise to specific commenters, then indeed it could only have been Knecht.)


Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 08- 3-13 8:55 AM
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There's a lot of circumstances in which I'm pretty indifferent to praise -- particularly at work I have a sense of, "I know better than you do whether I did a good job with this." In addition, I've always been somewhat suspicious of of praise from the perspective of, "I wouldn't want to be a member of any club that would accept me" -- if I'm getting praised for something I wonder if the standards are too low.

That said I really appreciate occasional praise and I do get pretty discouraged if I'm not getting any praise.


Posted by: NickS | Link to this comment | 08- 3-13 8:58 AM
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10: Doubt it. HR frowns on innovation. When I tried a related version of operant conditioning (adding goatse to documents I didn't like before asking for revisions), I'm the one who had to be retrained.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 08- 3-13 8:58 AM
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||

"├×at es gildra!"

|>


Posted by: Akbarr kolkrabbi | Link to this comment | 08- 3-13 9:01 AM
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16

It's not as well written as the real sagas.


Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 08- 3-13 9:21 AM
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I have a grad school frenemy who could be the poster child for this. She spent her whole childhood and undergrad being the smartest one in the room, in every room she was in, and now she can't handle even the mildest of challenges- she interprets everything except "you are right" as "you are stupid".

She told me once that she doesn't like being taught things. She only likes learning things independently (like from books or videos), because she doesn't like the feeling of having someone else know more about something than she does; it makes her feel dumb. (I had offered to let her borrow my truck, which is a stick shift, and then when she said she couldn't drive stick, offered to teach her. She declined. She'd rather rent a car than have someone teach her something.)


Posted by: E. Messily | Link to this comment | 08- 3-13 9:28 AM
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I guess that's only the poster child for the first point. It doesn't really line up with the part about criticism vs. encouragement. Oh well.


Posted by: E. Messily | Link to this comment | 08- 3-13 9:29 AM
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if I'm getting praised for something I wonder if the standards are too low

Hee. Yes.

I was starting to write an example of this that amused be but then realized it would just sound like egregious humblebragging.


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 08- 3-13 9:30 AM
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be s/b me


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 08- 3-13 9:31 AM
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17.2: In my experience, there's no way to teach somebody to drive a stick shift on your car if you both like your transmission and want to keep a good relationship with whoever you're teaching.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 08- 3-13 9:33 AM
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I've taught other people!

I don't care that much about the transmission though. It's a very old car.

Anyway I don't care if someone doesn't want to drive stick, I just think the reason ("I don't like being taught things") is bizarro.


Posted by: E. Messily | Link to this comment | 08- 3-13 9:40 AM
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21/22, I've taught five or six, almost all guys I was dating. No problems with either transmission or relationship, but it's because I made sure to praise their efforts in a geniune fashion so they wouldn't get discouraged.


Posted by: ydnew | Link to this comment | 08- 3-13 9:48 AM
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Actually, I'm a masterful stickshift teacher! No really, I am.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 08- 3-13 9:49 AM
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21:Mobyburgh is a tough place to learn to drive stick because of all the hills. But you're a great teacher, Moby! Really, so patient!


Posted by: bill | Link to this comment | 08- 3-13 9:50 AM
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12: In searching for that comment, I found this little gem of a thread which is somewhat relevant. I don't recall the specific context that made us react the way we did.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 08- 3-13 9:51 AM
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This post sucks, heebie. Don't listen the others. I think they're trying to distract you to steal your wallet.


Posted by: Walt Someguy | Link to this comment | 08- 3-13 9:51 AM
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25: There are a couple of intersections that I avoid in a stick, especially if I am even a little bit impaired.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 08- 3-13 9:53 AM
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23: I made sure to praise their efforts in a geniune fashion so they wouldn't get discouraged.

Yeah, a few former girlfriends were nice that way too.


Posted by: bill | Link to this comment | 08- 3-13 10:06 AM
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In fairness, in Crossfit you're not being praised for achievement. You're being praised for working your ass off in intense effort. You probably suck compared to fit 20 year olds (I know I sure do) but you can work as hard or harder than they do. Which I think is consistent with the advice for kids -- it's not no praise at all, but praising for working hard and doing things that are difficult for them, instead of praise for "being smart" or things that don't take much effort on their part.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 08- 3-13 10:19 AM
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You probably suck compared to fit 20 year olds (I know I sure do) but you can work as hard or harder than they do with a well-thought out steroid regimen to aid recovery.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 08- 3-13 10:24 AM
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I hadn't read the article in the OP before. Even though it's about students in elementary school, it fits awfully well with the personalities I remember from grad school.


Posted by: torrey pine | Link to this comment | 08- 3-13 10:49 AM
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33

Why is the human condition so tiring?


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 08- 3-13 11:21 AM
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11: Obviously you should tell people when they're getting it right - but the praise should be related to the behavior you're trying to encourage, not general praise.

When I was a kid I got lots of lavish praise for no good reason, and it made me anxious, because I had no idea what behavior people were praising. I figured that either the praise was reasonable, but I had no idea how to replicate whatever it was about I'd done that was amazing, wonderful, etc., or (more likely) that the praise was not related to a realistic assessment of the quality of my work, in which case it was an active attempt to deceive - and why would anyone give me false praise if I merited true praise?

Also, what Robert Halford said in 30.


Posted by: Benquo | Link to this comment | 08- 3-13 11:23 AM
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because I made sure to praise criticize their efforts in a geniune fashion so they wouldn't get discouraged.


Posted by: Kreskin | Link to this comment | 08- 3-13 11:31 AM
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25: Maybe I am a bad teacher. I only ever tried when I was in Nebraska or Ohio.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 08- 3-13 11:33 AM
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37

I'm all screwed up about this stuff -- I got lots of admiration for being remarkably clever and interesting as a child, but very little praise for actually doing anything in particular, and a lot of negative feedback for failing to do whatever I should have been doing. Which leaves me a seething mass of neurotic issues: I want praise very very badly, but unless it's precisely the right sort, I will interpret it as either evidence of low standards, or that the person handing out the praise just wants to keep me happy and is bullshitting me. I also am much more comfortable and happy with people who will give me negative feedback, because that makes praise from them trustworthy. Unless the negative feedback is delivered wrong or is the wrong kind of feedback somehow, in which case I will dread interacting with the person who gives it to me and will avoid doing anything they have to evaluate ever again, to really ridiculous lengths.

Luckily, I'm fairly outwardly impassive, so people at work mostly don't know what a mess I am.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 08- 3-13 11:35 AM
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I'm really really conscious about trying to keep my praise to my kids effort and accomplishment-focused, rather than ability focused (oh, I acknowledge that they're clever, but I try not to make a big thing about it), and while I don't know that I can take credit for it, they really do seem less psycho than I was at the same age, in ways that seem related to the praise/positive and negative feedback thing. They get their schoolwork done, and are interested in it, they work hard, and when they get in a mess where they've done something wrong or aren't succeeding at something, they come to us for help.

Probably, I've just been freakishly lucky with them, rather than their apparent sanity relating to anything I did on purpose.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 08- 3-13 11:56 AM
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it fits awfully well with the personalities I remember from grad school.

Not-quite-apropos-of-which, I'm entirely too amused by this site linked from Crooked Timber.


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 08- 3-13 12:01 PM
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40

I totally have Nick/essear syndrome when it comes to people who think I'm funny. If someone laughs too hard at my jokes, I assume their sense of humor is defective. But if they don't laugh at all, I get annoyed at that too. Play along, folks, but not too much.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 08- 3-13 12:03 PM
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Hah. That's a spot where I have total faith in people's spontaneous reactions. Anyone who successfully manages to notice that I have attempted to make a joke, I'm completely prepared to believe that they think I'm funny. People who don't think I'm funny don't fake laughter, they just look at me blankly, wondering why I just said whatever it was.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 08- 3-13 12:14 PM
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I don't remember being praised much as a kid. I mean, I got told I'd done well when I got good marks at school, but it wasn't really made a big deal of at home. At the same time, I don't remember feeling insecure. I knew my parents were generally pleased with me, it just wasn't conveyed through a lot of effusive praise. Then again, Scotland is a country where, 'Not bad' constitutes dangerously excessive affirmation.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 08- 3-13 12:16 PM
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That'll do, little ttaM. That'll do.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 08- 3-13 12:16 PM
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they just look at me blankly, wondering why I just said whatever it was

I feel like this is people's response to, like, 2/3 of all utterances I ever make.


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 08- 3-13 12:16 PM
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On my son's third day of first grade, we were walking home when he said to me, thoughtfully, "I must be a very bad kid." He was emphatically not a bad kid, so I was startled to say the least. I asked him what made him think so, and he said that the teacher gave something -- stickers, maybe? -- to kids who were good and when you got ten, you could get a treat from the treat box. He'd only gotten four stickers all week and some kids had already gotten their first treat. Safe conclusion: he must be a bad kid. I went in the very next day and asked the teacher about it. She said, "oh, no, no, he's great, very well-behaved, very quiet and polite," -- so much so that she hadn't seen the need to give him stickers, since they were supposed to be a motivational technique for the kids who are having more trouble behaving. Huh. Somehow that's not the message he got.

Anyway, I always remember the praise vs encouragement thing as being the difference between "good boy" and "good job". The first is praise, and sets a value on the receiver as a person; the second is encouragement, it tells the receiver that they've done something valuable. Stuff like, say, clearing the table -- "that was very helpful, thank you" is encouragement, "what a good girl you are" is praise. Both are still designed to elicit more of the behavior that the speaker appreciates, but they don't leave the recipient with the same feeling about it. So "you can finish, great job" -- that's encouragement, that's the good stuff. "You're smart," though, is praise. It's like the difference between guilt and shame. Guilt is for something you did; shame is about who you are. And yeah, I was the kind of parent who convoluted my brain trying to figure out how to encourage appropriately.


Posted by: Sarah Wynde | Link to this comment | 08- 3-13 12:22 PM
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People who don't think I'm funny don't fake laughter, they just look at me blankly, wondering why I just said whatever it was.

You must not be a man who goes on a lot of dates with women.


Posted by: Cryptic ned | Link to this comment | 08- 3-13 1:11 PM
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You know, I kind of think that even in that position, I'd be capable of evoking blank incomprehension.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 08- 3-13 1:20 PM
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Praise is especially worthless when it comes from someone without qualification to give it. That's great that you think my dancing's good, Mom, but the Ballets Russes has a different opinion. It's critical to find some way to deliver encouragement instead of praise when someone is stumbling within a hierarchy, even a bankrupt one (this is Hollywood, have you seen the bullshit that gets made, you just need to know the right people [ahem]).


Posted by: k-sky | Link to this comment | 08- 3-13 1:29 PM
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49

Encouragement, as a description of the helpful kind of positive reinforcement, doesn't quite sit right with me, because it's not evaluative at all. And I really like having my work positively evaluated, so long as I trust the evaluator's judgment and good faith.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 08- 3-13 1:48 PM
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You just keep plugging away and I'm sure it will be fine in the end.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 08- 3-13 1:48 PM
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51

50 to 48, unless 49 is reverse psychology.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 08- 3-13 1:50 PM
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I can second 37.1, but am not good at seeming impassive. Problem.

Sarah Wynde, did you point out the confused message to your kid's teacher? Any change?


Posted by: clew | Link to this comment | 08- 3-13 1:57 PM
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they really do seem less psycho than I was at the same age

I resolved not to put my kids through the same bullshit that I went through growing up. Now I'm annoyed that they are turning out nothing like me.


Posted by: politicalfootball | Link to this comment | 08- 3-13 2:02 PM
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Man, I think of every scrap of 'not like me' I can get for my kids as a victory.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 08- 3-13 2:13 PM
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Praise is especially worthless when it comes from someone without qualification to give it. That's great that you think my dancing's good, Mom, but the Ballets Russes has a different opinion.

It really annoys me when people praise or say positive things about something I've done, when I can tell that the thing I've done is actually not good.

Not long ago (but not recently, either) I made dinner for a friend, and it didn't come out at all as it should have (even though I followed the recipe to a T—I know exactly what the culprit was, and even thought that part of the recipe was suspicious, but figured that the author knew better than I—mistake!). I attempted to apologize for this and was met with "no, it's good, blah blah blah" (even though, as I said, it obviously was not). So annoying! Clearly it isn't! You don't need to coddle me; I can tell too! The only effect of your pseudo-niceness is that I question your judgment!

In another such episode I immediately discerned that a different party didn't care for something. "No no", insisted this party, "I just liked everything else more." My demands that she admit that she didn't like it fell on deaf ears. (Eventually, maybe actually on the following day, I did prise out an admission.)


Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 08- 3-13 2:16 PM
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Man, I think of every scrap of 'not like me' I can get for my kids as a victory.

You want your children to be dull, witless, incapable of analysis, bad writers, etc.?


Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 08- 3-13 2:17 PM
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She said, "oh, no, no, he's great, very well-behaved, very quiet and polite," -- so much so that she hadn't seen the need to give him stickers, since they were supposed to be a motivational technique for the kids who are having more trouble behaving.

I had a teacher in kindergarten or first grade pull a similar sort of thing with a weekly "clean desk award". I don't think I got the award until several months into the school year. I knew by the second week that the award was bullshit, because I definitely had the cleanest desk.


Posted by: Blume | Link to this comment | 08- 3-13 2:21 PM
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From the link in 39, what the hell is this?


Posted by: Eggplant | Link to this comment | 08- 3-13 2:21 PM
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Is it a bunch of seed pods bursting open?


Posted by: Cryptic ned | Link to this comment | 08- 3-13 2:23 PM
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It's a cattail.


Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 08- 3-13 2:24 PM
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Or something like it. Innit?


Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 08- 3-13 2:24 PM
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Like here.


Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 08- 3-13 2:25 PM
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Learning to drive stick prompted a big, important conversation with my parents in which I let them know that no, I am not capable of doing whatever I make up my mind to do, and that they should probably go back in time 18 years and stop saying that all the time. They didn't do this, but I think they did start viewing me more as a person and less as their child.


Posted by: Mister Smearcase | Link to this comment | 08- 3-13 2:35 PM
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56: Admittedly, I focus more on my vacillating and ineffective qualities in that analysis.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 08- 3-13 2:45 PM
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55.last sounds like the most awkward date ever to have a next day.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 08- 3-13 2:48 PM
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52: Sarah Wynde, did you point out the confused message to your kid's teacher? Any change?

I did. But I didn't give her time to change her messages. Three days later, I pulled him out of first grade and we home-schooled for the next two years until I could get him into a school that ... made sense.

When I said to her, on that last day, "I don't think this is a good fit for us," she responded with, "Oh, no. But you were one of my best parents." It was comforting, since it convinced me immediately that I'd made the right choice, despite how insane it seemed at the time. (Home-schooling had never seemed like a sensible option before.)


Posted by: Sarah Wynde | Link to this comment | 08- 3-13 2:57 PM
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55.last sounds like the most awkward date ever to have a next day.

It wasn't a date and it wasn't that kind of next day.


Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 08- 3-13 3:00 PM
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34" "Obviously you should tell people when they're getting it right - but the praise should be related to the behavior you're trying to encourage, not general praise."

In general, I see your point, and I concede it.

But in fact I was an awful kid. Neglected, from a poor family, with funny clothes, all of that. I never did my homework, and because my parents really weren't interested in me, no one noticed that I needed glasses and couldn't see two feet in front of my face. So I didn't pay attention in class, because I actually couldn't see what was going on up at the blackboard -- and I might not have anyway, who knew, because one thing I learned young was that adults were always going to lie to you and harm you.

Then I had this science teacher in the fifth grade. She put me in the front row, and she would do this thing, where she would ask me questions (everyone else had always ignored me after the first day, except to yell at me). The other kids would raise their hands the minute I didn't answer, and she would say, sweetly, "No, delagar knows the answer. She's going to tell us."

Now, I never DID know the answer, mind you. But I still remember that, how that made me feel. Like she thought I was smart, even when everyone around me knew I was a loser and an idiot.

Even when I was being a slacker and a loser, sitting there writing stories in my notebook all day long.

So my point -- and I do have one -- is sometimes giving praise for behavior that hasn't happened yet can be really crucial.

And I still love science to this day, though I'm still not that good at it, frankly.


Posted by: delagar | Link to this comment | 08- 3-13 3:10 PM
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I totally have LB syndrome -- I really want praise, but I get way suspicious when people give it to me. The same thing goes for encouragement: it feels great, but it tends to trip the "insincerity!" warning flag in my brain.


Posted by: torrey pine | Link to this comment | 08- 3-13 10:45 PM
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