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April Montessori Message

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the virtue of empathy and how our young students develop this virtue. I’ve been learning that our children are growing up less empathetic than previous generations and how and why this is happening. And although this doesn’t appear to be good news, there is good news in that empathy can be, in fact, needs to be taught, ideally at a young age. Empathy needs to be taught and modeled primarily by both parents and caregivers.

Although the Montessori philosophy intrinsically contains many aspects that help enable children to develop empathy, I hope to bring some more explicit strategies for helping children develop empathy into our school to build upon our foundation. I’ve discovered that one aspect that may be hindering our childrens’ ability to develop empathy is the use of excessive, meaningless praise by the adults in their young lives. This overuse overinflates our child’s egos and causes our children to need more praise and to develop a sense of entitlement. Again, the good news is that we can change our habits and become more mindful in our use of praise. The article below shares some concrete ways to encourage your child without overly praising him/her which will, in turn, help him/her to develop empathetic characteristics. Enjoy!

“25 Alternatives to ‘Good Job’: Breaking the Hollow Praise Habit”


Last week, I (this article’s author) shared some thoughts on praise and manipulation.

In that post, I shared some brutal truths about how I parent and some ideas about how I would like to parent. I shared my goal to break the habit of hollow, unthinking praise and habit of manipulative praise, and turn it into something more worthwhile.

But breaking a habit is not easy, so I’m falling back on my tried and true idea and arming myself with some ‘positive first responses’. I’m hoping that if I’ve already thought about something better to say than “good job” then I will be more likely to remember it and use it when the time comes.

So I’ve put together a list of 25 alternatives to “good job” and given myself some ideas of when to use them.

Say thank you when you mean it – explain why you are grateful for your child’s actions:

+ Thank you for helping with…….

+ It makes mornings/dinner/outings easier when you………thank you.

+ I really appreciate it when you…….

+ Thank you for……it means I/we can now………

Make an observation based on facts – just say what you see without emotions or judgement:

+ We did it together.

+ Wow. You made a building/drawing/etc.

+ You did it on your own.

+ You did x and then y and worked it out.

+ You used lots of red paint/blocks/tape/etc.

+ You made it really big/small/colorful/complicated/etc.

+ That took you a really long time and you did it!

Extend and encourage – extend learning and encourage conversation by asking questions about what you see while also recognizing your child’s efforts:

+ How did you do that?

+ You did x, what will you do now?

+ Can you tell me about it?

+ What is your favorite part?

+ How did you think of that?

Put feelings into words – explain how something makes you fell, help your kids notice how their actions make others feel and acknowledge your child’s own feelings:

+ I really enjoyed doing this with you.

+ I love watching you create/help your sister/play soccer/etc.

+ I’m so proud to be your mother/father, every day, no matter what.

+ Look how happy your friend is when you share/help/smile/etc.

+ You kept going, even when it was hard.

+ You look so pleased to have done that!

+ You made x feel so please when you did that.

+ It makes you feel good when you do x.

Say nothing – we don’t need to praise every little action or fill every space with noise. It is enough to sit back and watch our children delight in their own achievements.

+ Say nothing, just smile.

Changing this habit and taking the time to think of something better to say can be hard and takes more time and effort, but that is the point. It is next to meaningless if we just let rote praise spew out of our mouths without thinking. Only say something when you mean it, then you won’t notice the time and effort it takes to tell your child how you feel, how excited you are or how thankful you are because it will be genuine.

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