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  • I grew up on praise. I feasted on it. I did everything I could to get more of it. When I became a teacher, I made sure to heap it on my students when they did something 'right' or 'good', to ensure they kept doing it.

    And then I had an epiphany one day. I was reading a beautiful book, 'Gentle Birth, Gentle Mothering', by Dr Sarah Buckley. She introduced me to the great education theorist, Alfie Kohn, and his philosophy that praise is just as destructive as condemnation and criticism. That, in fact, praise and condemnation, are merely sides of the same coin. Suddenly, I could see there was a gulf of difference between genuinely encouraging a child - loving them, acknowledging their abilities, urging them to have a go and discover - and praising a child - intending to manipulate or reinforce a child's behaviour through verbal affirmation.

    At first, I found it incredibly difficult to stop telling my daughter she was clever, beautiful, wonderful, every time she did something that could be deemed successful. But with the belief that praise would externalise her natural tendencies towards learning, discovery, achievement, I persisted and discovered something incredible - Poppy continues to learn and strive and be motivated ENTIRELY without any praise from myself or my husband.

    I'd like to add a disclaimer at this point - while we have removed praise from Poppy's life (well, in our household at least), we have not taken away encouragement, love, affection or genuine excitement when she gets excited about something new she has learned to do.

    So how does this all link in with Alex's excellent discussion-starter on 'loves' in Cowbird-land?

    Just as children will continue to learn and discover and find pleasure in achievement in the absence of praise, I believe we can all find something incredibly pure and enjoyable in our creative pursuits, in the absence of likes and loves and followers and audiences. For when the external motivation (likes and loves and awards and 'winning') is taken away, we learn again how to find that internal motivation/pleasure/contentment that was there in the beginning.

    Does all of this mean I'm outside of the joy of getting new loves or audience members? Not at all. I love the loves and I equally love bestowing love on others, to (inadequately) express how moved, challenged, inspired, excited I am by their words.

    But I do wonder how Cowbird - and beyond that, our whole education system, our relationships, our workplaces - would function, would perhaps evolve and change, if we moved away from praise and winning.

    --> I've really resisted any past urges around writing a story that expresses a viewpoint, as opposed to sharing honest, heartfelt personal experiences. But I've found such validation and joy in unshackling myself from my praise addiction that I invite you, too, to consider the role it plays in your life.
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