This entry is inspired by a conversation with the girls’ music teachers after class this morning.

We have been attending music sessions with Nurture With Love for more than a year now. The programme is structured upon Suzuki’s philosophy of ‘talent education’.

I know, I know, it sounds all very ‘tiger mum’ but I promise that it’s not (I’d make one lousy tiger mum anyway.) You can read more about my take on talent education in my recent post on Maybebaby and why I’m inspired by it.

This morning, the teachers handed each parent a little slip of paper, on which was written:

“Each of us enjoys receiving a pat on the back or hearing ‘Well done!’ from someone of influence. Our children are no different. Encouragement is Essential.

It serves as a timely reminder that as parents, we are not only our children’s main caregivers for their basic needs, but also their key source of inspiration, motivation and guidance. Often, especially with young children, our daily interactions and conversations with them harbour on the instructional.

“Go take a shower now!”

“Come eat your dinner!”

“Let’s get ready for school now!”

“Don’t touch that, it’s dirty! Remember to wash your hands.”

“Do you need to pee? Tell mummy when you need to pee okay?”

“Are you a big girl now? Big girls pick up their own toys. Can you show me that you are a big girl?”

“It’s late now! Go to sleep. No more talking.”

Don’t do this. Do that. Be careful. Come here. Not now. Eat up. Wash up. Clean up. Pick up. Hurry up. Quickly now. Wait for me. Hold my hand. Don’t run. Walk. 

Sounds familiar?

I’m guilty of it too. Sure, we throw in a generous helping of heartfelt ‘I Love You’s, accompanied with hugs and kisses. But more often than not, we forget to praise our child.

By praise, I don’t just mean general phrases like, “You were a good girl today for doing *fill in achievement of the day*”. I’m referring to acknowledgement, recognition and encouragement directed at specific actions. For very young children like Claire (14 months), this could mean seemingly insignificant actions like handing an item to mummy when asked, or taking the initiative to wipe her mouth after a meal. She may not have done a complete job of cleaning her mouth well but praise should be delivered in recognition of her effort to do it independently. The effort, as much as the result, is worthy of praise.

I don’t know why constant encouragement is something that we tend to forget. Maybe it’s because we’re too much in a rush to get things done and don’t notice these little daily accomplishments. Maybe it’s because we are too focused on the delivery of results. Could Asian values have something to do with it – in that it’s not in our culture to express our love and encouragement in ways beyond “Ah, that’s right! That’s the way to do it!” or “See? I told you you can do it if only you tried hard enough.” Maybe our behaviour is driven by the belief that modesty is a virtue and thus lavishing too much praise too often may make our child all Yaya Papaya – local slang for big-headed. Or it could be that the world is a cruel place: praise may give your child the false impression that she’s better than the rest and crush her spirit when she eventually discovers that she’s not exactly the best thing since sliced bread – as her parents had made her out to be.

Whatever the reason may be, we must recognise that an environment without praise or encouragement is, in a way, discouraging too. Imagine if you worked for years without a single word of acknowledgement from your boss for your effort. You may not have delivered that presentation with the finesse of a tops salesperson but surely all the effort you had put in is also worthy of mention. Or, imagine if your own parents focused only on your exam results but negated the other great things that you are capable of. We don’t live or work for the approval of our parents or superiors, but the occasional compliment or pat on the back is enough to make our day.

During music class, it’s common to see and hear parents issuing instructions throughout. “Go to teacher, it’s your turn”, “See, meimei is so good. She is clapping her hands. Why don’t you clap like meimei?”, “Come! Play properly!” We don’t tend to realise that the instructional approach is focused solely on completing a task and achieving a result – and is far from the best way to motivate and guide our child in accomplishing something – be it in the field of music, motor skills, knowledge, good habits and so on.

Which is why although the programme is focused on early childhood education, educating the parents and guiding them on how to look out for and recognise “golden moments”, and to acknowledge and praise our child for that, plays a big part as well. Today, I complimented Claire for waiting her turn. I hugged her when she sang along to Wee Willie Winkie and Bow Wow Wow. I said “Well done!” when she clapped her chubby hands during Humpty Dumpty. Did she get the lyrics right? No. Did she keep strictly to the beat when clapping? No. But I recognised that it is no mean feat for a 14 month-old to demonstrate patience, recognise the song being sung and attempting the tune and actions to each song, and to try to sing and clap in unison with the rest of the class.

The confidence and joy that lights up her face is clear for all to see. Is she going to believe that she’s the best drummer or triangle-player out there as a result of the praise? Most probably not. She’s just happy that she’s one step nearer to being like the big kids, which in itself is an accomplishment. Even if she does brag to all and sundry about it, at this age, what does it matter?

As parents, let’s try to remember that encouragement is essential. Consequently, the absence of encouragement – while it may not necessarily be outrightly discouraging – will have an effect on our children’s sense of Self in terms of worth, confidence and motivation.

So go ahead – don’t be afraid to Praise The Kid!

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