In my work, I love to give kids recognition for their accomplishments with praise, stickers, and points that they can cash in for prizes (toys, pencils, etc). I actually have a tiered prize box with four levels. They can use their points to “buy” 1, 4, 10, and 20-point prizes. And what do they earn points for? They earn points for doing things that are hard for them, like answering personal questions (in my therapy games), waiting their turn to talk, keeping calm when they are disappointed, cleaning up after their done playing with my toys, and doing their therapy homework which typically involves things like facing their fears, managing their anger well, and practicing self-soothing techniques like relaxation breathing.

Occasionally, I meet folks who are philosophically opposed to giving kids any kind of reward. There’s even a famous educational writer who says that one shouldn’t praise children because they will turn into “praise junkies.” Since praise includes giving any kind of compliment as well as expressing appreciation and gratitude, I find this to be ridiculous. Why shouldn’t children be provided with sincere encouragement and appreciation, especially when they are doing something that is hard for them? Also, they get corrected by adults all of the time! Kids’ lives are complicated and can be very hard. When I praise a child for waiting for a turn to speak and also give him/her points, I am also helping teach an important skill for making friends. Kids who interrupt a lot have trouble making friends and having meaningful conversations that ultimately lead to close intimate relationships. That’s just one small example.

But before you all start talking about undermining intrinsic motivation (research in this area is slight, by the way, and doesn’t apply to the situations I describe, anyway), I’ll get to my point. I too, appreciate sincere praise. I also like getting the occasional sticker! One of my internship supervisors was Dr. Sheila Eyberg, a psychologist famous for being the lead developer of Parent-Child Interaction Therapy, a psychotherapy for parents and their young children. The program, like most parent training programs, teaches parents how to praise and show other positive attention (including concrete rewards) to kids when they are behaving in ways that show social emotional growth. Sheila applied these principles to us, as well. Some of the interns didn’t like it. However, it was a red letter day for me when I pulled out one of my reports, for an evaluation I’d done under Sheila’s supervision. On the top of the report was an ice cream sticker and a note, “Good report, Elizabeth!” As interns we worked long hours, were thrown into new situations constantly, and since it was an assessment heavy internship placement, I was writing reports all of the time. I loved the sticker and compliment that Sheila gave me. It was awesome.

So what’s this have to do with breast cancer, you ask? I recently mentioned my cousin’s wife, Brenda, also a breast cancer survivor. (By the way, Brenda finished her 20 miles today of the first day of her 60 mile, 3 day, Susan Komen breast cancer walk. Go, Brenda!!!) I don’t know where she got her treatment but my mom told me that when she was done, she was given a “model patient” certificate. My first thought? “I want one of those.” Then I laughed my ass off at myself (in my head) for that being my first thought. This is actually the first time I’ve let that thought leave my brain because come on, it’s a little embarrassing.

But today I got something better than a sticker! Two sweet little thank you emails. I had sent individual thank you note to Dr. Beatty and the other medical staff in the office. I got one note from the reception coordinator, Alysia and the other from Dr. Beatty. And yes, I would have been fine without this praise, it was nice to get. I believe that I can be a “praise thriver” without becoming a “praise junkie.” And Brenda, even if you don’t walk another single step this weekend, I’ve got a sheet of stickers with your name on it!