Why You Should Never Praise Students For Altruism

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What could possibly be wrong with praising students for being kind?

After all, altruism is something you want to encourage, right? You want to create a classroom where doing for others is common practice.

It makes everything easier and more pleasant.

So when you see it, you let ’em know. You praise loud and proud. You high five and say, “Way to go!” And hopefully, other students will notice your acknowledgement and want to do the same.

It makes perfect sense.

But it’s a mistake. It’s a mistake that actually discourages altruistic behavior. Keep praising and you’ll see less of it, not more.

Here’s why:

It turns kindness into work.

Our sense of empathy dampens when we receive something external in return for our kind acts. Because, you see, payment in any form weakens the moment’s intrinsic value.

It cheapens it and can even cause us to start believing the lie that we deserve to be paid for doing something that comes natural and feels good as is. We start looking around to see who’s noticed.

Praise over time effectively removes the joy of helping others.

This isn’t something we’re consciously aware of. It just is. It happens predictably. Thus, the more praise you give students in response to doing good the less moved they’ll feel to keep doing it.

It snuffs out happiness.

Depending on who you talk to, there are dozens of definitions of happiness. But one thing is for certain: Feeling as if you’re a benefit to others is deeply satisfying.

It encourages you to use your unique skills and traits to be of service. It motivates you to seek more of the feeling by stepping in to help. Any praise you receive pales in comparison and can tarnish your actions.

In time, as mentioned above, it warps our empathetic nature. Many students nowadays have been praised and rewarded so much that they’re all but dead inside, chasing hits of dopamine from social media and video games.

—While ignoring the needs of those around them.

The best thing you can do is limit the cold hypnotism of technology in your classroom and allow your own model of kindness to heal them and rehabilitate their empathy muscles.

It causes students to lose themselves.

Over time, and because of popular culture and social media, students begin searching for recognition from others to the exclusion of anything else. They chase not what dreams are in their heart, but what others want and expect for them.

This is no way to live.

It’s sad and tragic but epidemic in our culture—and not just among students. By chasing affirmation you wind up trapped in a career, relationship, or lifestyle that causes you stress and unhappiness.

Like trying to squeeze a square peg into a round hole, you live a life that was meant for someone else. While your dreams are dashed or laying dormant within.

Yes, I know it sounds extreme and dramatic. It’s just a little praise. But the leap from praising what is already good to losing one’s soul isn’t very far.

So How Should You Praise?

Praise is something you give as a form of feedback in response to new learning, effort, or achievement beyond what your students have done before.

It’s directed not at them, but at their work.

“That is a good, clear sentence.”

“Your summary is thorough and right on the mark.”

“The routine was done perfectly.”

This form of praise is a homing device. By showing students what success is and feels like, it let’s them know they’re heading in the right direction.

It doesn’t flatter or manipulate. It isn’t over the top, nor does it exaggerate.

It’s honest and worthy and done to communicate and define what is good and in their best interest.

PS – If a student does something nice for you or the class, you can, and should, say thank you.

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