Feb 05

Is It Really True? New Rules for the Game of Life Quiz ~ Children’s Self-Esteem

If this is the first time you’re playing along, you may want to read our initial explanation. You can find it here:
Is It Really True?
Quiz Intro

Please remember that in this quiz there are no right or wrong answers. We simply want to stimulate dialogue about some of our commonly held cultural beliefs.

Consider this statement…

We should praise children when they do a good job.

what motivates you?

Do you agree or disagree?

Here’s what we came up with as we thought about the statement.

Why would people praise children when they’ve done a “good job”?

As we said last time, we believe that everything people say or do is intended to meet a need or to help them experience something they value. And when we want something we come up with ideas for getting it–strategies such as “praising children for doing a good job.”

So what is it that people want–the values–that motivate them to choose this strategy?

We guess that people praise children because they value:

  • Support: to help the child feel empowered in their ability to accomplish something meaningful, and therefore improve their self-confidence.
  • Acknowledgment: so the child understands the contribution they’ve made to you through their action.
  • Success: helping the child understand which behaviors will support their success in life.

Can you think of any other needs our values people might want to satisfy by using this strategy?

Why this strategy?

Now the question becomes, why would someone choose this strategy?

Behind every strategy we choose there is a [tag-tec]belief that guides our choices [/tag-tec]and our actions. So what are the cultural beliefs that lead people to choose this strategy instead of some other?

Here are some possible beliefs that may lead to choosing this strategy:

  • Children need authorities to help them learn good from bad, right from wrong.
  • The best way to motivate children is by using praise.
  • Without praise children won’t establish a sense of their value or self-worth.

Can you think of any others beliefs that might lead to using praise as a strategy?

Does this strategy work?

If your goal is to have children look to others for their sense of worth and have their actions motivated out of a desire to be praised and to please others–or the fear of not getting this praise–then we would say this strategy works.

We know many adults who depend on the praise and the approval of others for their happiness. We are not immune from this. We still catch ourselves hoping for praise and reward for what we do. And sometimes find ourselves disappointed and questioning our own worth when we don’t get it.

So, if what you really want is for the child to have a high degree of self-confidence that comes from a sense of empowerment, the ability to know if they are acting in harmony with their own values, an intrinsic sense of their self-worth, and the ability to know for themselves which actions will best support their success in life, then we think the strategy of praise probably does not work very well.

To the degree that we’ve come to depend on praise, not receiving it will lead to one of two scenarios–in children and adults alike. Either we start questioning our value, abilities and our internal guidance, or we end up frustrated and rebelling against the “authority” who failed to provide the praise we want.

What new understanding might make a difference?

There are understandings that can help people choose a different strategy than praise.

We discussed one in the first installment of this series: the difference between intrinsic vs. extrinsic motivation.

This time we are exploring the difference between:

Domestication: Any training process that uses a system of punishments and rewards to accomplish its goals.


Internal Authority: Using the principles and values we consciously choose as our guide.


If you’ve been brought up in a typical world culture, then you are no stranger to externally imposed consequences such as punishments and rewards–praise being one of them.

From a very young age, authorities in your life teach you what’s right and what’s wrong, what’s good and what’s bad, what’s appropriate and inappropriate.

And you quickly learned that you get scolded or punished for being wrong or bad and praised or rewarded for being good or right.

To paraphrase Don Miguel Ruiz from his book, The Four Agreements: We soon learn to use this system of punishment and reward on ourselves to control our own behavior so we can keep getting the rewards (praise, recognition, a better job, a bigger house, …) and keep avoiding the punishments (ridicule, loss of relationship, loosing our job, …)

It seems that the lesson most people learn from this is:

What other people think is more important than what I think.

Given the amount of time and energy people spend on worrying about what other people think of them, it doesn’t appear that the strategy of praise satisfies the underlying desire to instill people with self-confidence, empowerment, the ability to know and act in harmony with their values, or an intrinsic sense of their self-worth.

What might better satisfy these underlying values?

Internal Authority

Imagine that instead of Praise:

“It was very grown-up of you to help rake your grandmother’s yard.”

“Your such a good boy for cleaning up the crayons.”

“You are so smart to get an A plus on that math test.”

What if we supported children in developing their self-confidence and their sense self-worth by modeling the ability to know what we value and to offer appreciation for how their actions supported us?

Let’s consider these values again. How would we model our value for:


Our desire to help a child feel empowered in their ability to accomplish something meaningful, and therefore improve their self-confidence.

“I love that you helped rake your grandmother’s yard. I think it helps her understand how much you care for her. Is that why you did it?”


Our desire to help a child understand the contribution they’ve made through their action.

“I really enjoy that you cleaned up the crayons because I like it when it’s clean and tidy and I appreciate your help in keeping it that way. What was important to you about cleaning up the crayons?”


Our desire to help a child understand which behaviors will support their success in life.

“I’m happy to see you understood all the ideas in your math test because I think this will help you when you grow up the same ways it helps me with our family budget and running our business. What do you like about it?”

How would this be different for the child? selfconfidence

Imagine being raised in a culture where the people in your life understood what they valued and how to express their appreciation for your actions in ways that helped you develop your ability to know what you value.

Imagine that, both at home and in school, you were supported in making your own decisions, with respect for your internal guidance. And that the “authorities” in your life were truly interested in helping you explore what was important to you about your choices.

Do you think people would be as hesitant to rely on their own decisions or as worried about the opinions of other people?

How would it have been different for you?

What occurs to you?

That’s our thinking about this belief statement. Please let us know what occurs to you about any or all of this.

Click Here to make your comment.

We look forward to reading your response.

With great trust and respect for your ability to choose wisely,

Beth and Neill

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12 Responses to “Is It Really True? New Rules for the Game of Life Quiz ~ Children’s Self-Esteem”

  1. Maria says:

    Well, it was a problem with the word ‘praise’. If it is my opinion they ( children) are looking for / worried about, dependent on my opinion or I need to manipulate, then I would say, ‘No, don’t praise’. But if it means acknowledging joy and beauty and kindness, appreciation, then I say, ” Yes”. When children (all of us really) live in a world where they know that they are safe to be who they are then they don’t see your ‘praise’ or ‘blame’ as controlling but just as your opinion. Your words wouldn’t have the same tone or weight. Its a lot about intention and tone for me. Kids feel our words. but then our culture has a long history of control through praise and blame, so there is often a lot of charge or desire to judge or control on many words used. For me, that is the real issue. What are you feeling when you talk to them. Like the Dog Whisperer says, ‘ Change yourself, watch your energy.” Children will respond.

  2. Jenne says:

    I love this philosophy and I think it is a great idea. We should definitely teach children to make their own decisions and not worry about what other people think. But what about when children throw things or hit someone how would we handle that? Would we ask them why they did it and how it made them feel? I love reading about this but at times it does make me think that people are so messed up and I want to help them all but how can we do that?

  3. wordsRmylife says:

    Kids should be praised when they do good because it is incentive to continue to do the same or reach even higher.

  4. Susan says:

    I’ll have to admit, I bristle at the word “praise”. I also have a problem with this being directed only toward children.

    Children are people and they need acknowledgment, love, appreciation and support. I know I like to be appreciated when I do something well. I like to be recognized. So for me, this NEVER looks like “Good boy!” or “Good Girl!” A child is neither good nor bad for doing what they are “told” — just manipulated.

    For me, it usually looks like, “Wow! I sure appreciated your emptying the dishwasher. Thanks so much! It’s such a relief for me to come home to a clean house.”

    Or… “That was so kind of you to make that card for your sister. I’ll bet she’ll feel so happy to know you thought of her!”

    Or… “I love the colors in your drawing. They feel so happy… (or sad, or whatever it is I honestly feel when I see them)”.

    For goodness sakes… they’re people with amazing minds and just need a safe place to unfold. It’s what they do naturally. Our job is to just not squelch them!

    (Homeschooling mom of six)

  5. Randy says:

    I understand and agree with the concept that we shouldn’t teach children
    to work for the “cookie”. This teaches what they don’t want to be instead of what they want to be. However, if you say, “I love that you cleaned up the crayons” then you have embedded praise in what you are saying. You have shown that it is pleasing to you that they preformed this action. I’m not sure there is way out of that. However, children do need a balance from the the “cookie” mentality many face in school and in other activities outside the home. This type of conditioning remains endemic in our society.

  6. Jenna Ludwig says:

    Neill and Beth ~

    Taken from the article above:
    “I love that you helped rake your grandmother’s yard. I think it helps her understand how much you care for her. Is that why you did it?”

    This is still praise, in my opinion, even if couched in ways
    that affirm joint values. We do not say “good
    girl” or “good boy” in our family if we can
    help it…it is so ingrained in our culture..
    On the other hand, we do use the kind of support that is pasted in this commment.

    Thanks for the opportunity to think about this,

  7. Beth Banning says:

    Thank you all so much for expressing your thoughts on this statement.

    Here are more questions that have been brought up for me.

    What is your definition of praise? Does it matter what your intention is when you praise? Is it more value to model self responsible language–letting people know what’s important to you about what they’ve done– or just telling them you think it’s great?

    After reading all these comments the biggest thing they brought up for me was, what I see missing most in this area of “praise”. it is exploring what was important to the child about what they did. Supporting them in getting to their underlying values.

    Well that’s all for me for now…

    with love,

  8. Beth Banning says:

    Jenne, you asked, “But what about when children throw things or hit someone how would we handle that? Would we ask them why they did it and how it made them feel?

    I would answer this two ways. First, yes in my opinion it would be wonderful if we started by asking the child what’s going on with them that had them throw things or hit someone instead of just saying something such as, “that wasn’t very nice, say you’re sorry.”

    secondly, there isn’t always time for that kind of discussion in the moment. There is a distinction called, Protective vs. punitive use of force. We define it like this: Exercising power over the situation, free from moralistic judgment vs. Use of force to punish someone or to make them sorry for “wrong-doing”.

    But we’ll save that for another post. 🙂

  9. Barbara says:

    I believe it is good to praise a child for doing something helpful, because that is how he can see that the act was pleasing. After reading further, I think perhaps you are making a distinction between appreciation or gratitude and praise. If the child is doing something for her own enjoyment, it probably isn’t useful to offer praise. In that case, the child will enjoy the activity, or not, from her own experience.

  10. Bronco says:

    At first I beleived in praise. For the reasons listed I thought I was doing the “right” things in encouraging my child to take the correct action. But it does feel as though I am training a puppy as hinted in the article. Further on I had a shift of the way I felt about my answer. I have been with professionals seeking a better way of life for myself and it is stressed to use “I” statements along with DESC script (Describe, Express, Specify, Consequences). I have found these and other tools to be a far better way of communication. I was reminded of these in the article. Thanks

  11. Valencia Ray MD says:

    I do my best to not beat around the bush, so to speak. I come right out and teach my children to do the best they can, reach inside for their best level of excellence, and not to seek the approval of others. Mistakes are not something “bad”; they are relative experiences to be learned from. I say happiness is an inside job, it is there all along – if we would stay centered in our bodies and stop giving away our power for approval from others. If we feel good that we have done our best and we like ourselves, we have a much better chance of living a happy, healthy and prosperous life and let others do the same.

  12. Ola says:

    What Are Personal core Values & Why Identify and Establish Your Values?