Why do we praise?

Why do we praise? When it comes to praising our PDAers it can be a difficult job, it’s not as straightforward as saying something nice and them accepting the nice words. Many PDAers dislike praise, to the point where they will lash out when praised. This makes it hard to build up their self-esteem as we have to be careful what we say and how we say it. But why do we praise? What’s the point of it? Should we be trying to praise our PDAers or not?

Praising to make ourselves feel better.

Let’s face it, we do feel good when we praise someone. If we consider why we praise it’s often because we have happy feelings which we want to share with someone (usually the person causing the happy feelings). We want them to know we feel good, that we like what they’ve done, we’re sharing our feelings. It feels good to tell everyone about the good things that have happened, it’s why so many share their child’s achievements with friends/family/strangers.

Sometimes though, we get so caught up in sharing our feelings, in making ourselves feel better by releasing all these positive feelings that we forget to consider whether we are helping people by sharing. Parents might not realise their child doesn’t want the world to know they just used the toilet by themselves, partners might not want their loved one telling friends and family that they remembered to put the bin out without being nagged, friends might not want everyone on their social network to know about the job they just landed.

When we feel the need to praise, we need to remember why we are praising. Are we just doing it to make ourselves feel better? If it is then perhaps we need to consider better ways of praising without bypassing the preferences of the one we are supposedly praising. Is there a way to write out your feelings without sharing them with others? Can we praise our kids in ways that retains their modesty? Can we share anonymously?

Praising for repeat compliance.

Who doesn’t praise a child when they’ve done something ‘right’ or ‘good’ in order to get them to repeat the task again in the future. It’s what reward charts we made for, it’s the basis of many a therapy. But are we really helping the child to do better?

For most NT people, when they are rewarded one part of their brain releases endorphins which make them feel good, this makes them want to repeat the behaviour in order to get the endorphin buzz again. Eye contact is a good example of this, sis you know making eye contact with people you like releases endorphins in NT people, it’s the main reason they make eye contact, it feels good, so they do it more. But for some ND people (mostly Autistics) they don’t always get a release of endorphins this way, the same is true of PDA people. Even with the PDAers who do get an endorphin buzz from praise, the demand to repeat the task in order to get the buzz again becomes too much. For PDAers, even good things can be demands to avoid.

When we praise PDAers, while it may make them feel happy, it might also cause them to feel anxiety, they get scared about having to repeat the task again in order to get the same result. This causes them to avoid the task in future, this can cause them to become angry (knowing they cannot repeat the task again) and so they lash out, either at the one praising or at the task which caused the praising. This is why some PDAers may destroy something they’ve made when praised for it.

We need to think before we praise, are we praising so they will repeat the behaviour? Are they likely to repeat it or will it become a demand to avoid? Is there another way of praising them that reduces or removes the expectation to repeat?

Is the praise genuine.

Kids aren’t stupid, they can often see through fake praise. Even Autistic/PDA people can tell sometimes if praise is given that is not genuine. Fake praise can have an opposite effect to genuine praise, and whether the praise given is deliberately fake or not, it will still have a negative effect. Fake praise can harm a person’s self-esteem far quicker and far harder than positive praise can build up.

We should ensure that whenever we give praise that it is always genuine. Don’t say a person’s haircut looks good if you hate it, while that might seem acceptable in society, when picked up on by the receiver it can have a large negative effect. They may begin to question every time you praise them in the future, they may wonder if you were genuine previously, they may believe you are deliberately hurting them, they may start to question all praise given by every person they meet. One fake praise can lead to a downhill struggle for the receiver, leading them to reject any praise in the future, no matter how genuine.

Try to always be genuine, and if you can’t think of anything genuine to say then stay quiet. Try to find something genuine that you can say, no matter how small it may seem. And if you have to be honest to avoid giving fake praise, then try to word it as nicely as possible while including praise about other things you can be genuine about.

Praising to boost self-esteem.

We often praise people because we want to make them feel happy, we want them to see the good in their actions and we want them to feel good about themselves. For most people, praising them when they want to be praised and when the praise is genuine can do exactly that. But praising someone who doesn’t want praise, who doesn’t agree with the praise given or feels like the praise is not genuine, can have an adverse effect.

There are many ways to boost a person’s self-esteem without directly praising them (or praising them at all). You can praise them to another person while they are in earshot. You can word praise in such a way that is doesn’t sound like praise. You can praise them while explaining that it’s just your opinion and they don’t have to agree or accept the praise. You can praise them while explaining that you don’t expect them to repeat the action which led to the praise. You can leave them notes with positive comments on. You can give them a hug or a smile. You can tell them nice things about themselves that you like throughout the day/week. You can tell them that you like it when they (insert behaviour). You can list things about them that you like or that are positive. You can invite them to write a list of positives about themselves. You can remind them of positive things they done in the past. You can buy them treats without there being a reason to buy them (just because…). You can treat them with respect and dignity.


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