A Pirate's Resources

Engaging Our Kids

Interest Vs. Praise

So, you’ve got a creative child, who’s churning out story after story, or piece of art after piece of art. Or maybe you have the opposite - your child painstakingly creates something once in a blue moon. And then they show it to you. What do you do??

Most of us dive right into PRAISE. Oh, you did such a good job. I love it. It’s beautiful. You are so creative.

Sounds good, doesn’t it? We want to encourage our kids to keep creating, so we praise them and tell them they are wonderful, and their art is wonderful. But growing research demonstrates that this kind of praise actually backfires. I’ll leave you to google all of that, and focus here on what we can and should do to actually encourage our children and their creativity.

It’s simple really. We want to engage and connect with them. The art becomes the context for that. When it comes to interacting with our child about their creation, we want to have an openness with them. If what we say shuts them down, we want to avoid that. We want to open them up, and get to know THEM better, have a conversation with them. Typically, the creator - of a short story, a painting, or a model car - is interested in their own creation. Something sustained them through the entire creative process. In sharing it with you, they are hoping that YOU will now be interested in their creation.

Does praise (“you did a great job”) pronounce interest or judgment? Interest isn’t expressed in statements, but through questions and dialogue. Asking questions is, generally, what we do when we are interested in something. “How did you think of that?” “The colors you chose are interesting, what inspired you?” “This is an unusual word, what made you think of it?” Note that we are not asking leading questions - we do not want to have a yes or no answer, as those don’t lead to conversation. So, using the interest we have in their work and their process and, ultimately, THEM, we talk with them. We ask about their process, their experience, their creation. And hopefully, they want to talk about it.

Just because we ask a good, conversation starting question doesn’t mean our child will answer. They may feel shy with their work, or have been burned when someone criticized it, or just feel, well, moody. Don’t give up. Don’t press them, but demonstrate your interest with real questions, and let those seeds fall where they will. When they answer, gently keep going. When they don’t, gently back away, and hope to do more in the future. Don’t give up!


Expressing Interest through the Right Questions

I wanted to write a quick follow up to my post on praise versus interest. Hopefully you were encouraged to look for new ways to communicate your interest and care in both your child and their creativity/creation. My own daughter is in the process of writing a short story for her homeschool class, and so I had opportunity to put into practice my own advice, and I was so surprised by the results.

I stink at it.

I learned that asking truly interested questions requires not only interest (though without it, it’s nearly impossible - more on that in a later post), but also a retraining of my way of asking questions. Even when I was most interested - I truly cared not only about the piece of work she was creating, but also her - I struggled with asking questions that opened up conversation. Too often, I ask leading questions. A leading question, in case you don’t know, is a question that is leading towards a certain response. In a court room, a leading question is a question asked to get a specific answer, often a yes or no answer. “That short story took you a long time to write, didn’t it?” is a leading question - it is likely to only get a yes or no answer, and then, well, the conversation stops. “How long did it take you to write?” isn’t much better, though it will get an answer that is hopefully more than one word.

The weird thing about leading questions is what they are really doing. Open ended questions allow the person answering to tell their story - to share something they want to share. Leading questions, on the other hand, allow the one asking questions to direct the story. It gives a subtle control of the conversation to the question-er, rather than opening up conversation. Since I want to know others better, I want to open up that conversation, not shut it down . . . Even if it means that I am not “in control” of where the conversation is going to go.

So I’ve begun to listen to my questions before I ask them, and make sure that they are opening the way to more conversation, not leading my daughter (or anyone) to follow my lead. It sounds silly, but it’s proving to be surprising effective (despite my awkwardness in doing it). Take a look at the questions you are asking, and hopefully your own conversations will be richer for it!