Friday, August 20, 2010

"You're so brave!": how praise feels like pressure...

I blogged recently about how M tried snails, and just about everything else on the trip (she didn't like them much, and a few things got spit into a napkin, but she enjoyed herself at the table...)

Well, at camp, the counselor came up to me and RAVED about how "BRAVE!" M was to have tried snails. How they were all "so impressed!"

Stop it! I wanted to yell... "Of course she tried snails, and nutella and lots of other delicious things!" I replied, smiling...

What does it do to a child's natural curiosity, her natural drive and ability to try and learn new foods when adults praise?

Will she be as likely to try snails or a new food again, or did that praise feel like pressure? Did that word "brave" imply that there was something unusual about trying snails, or something scary about snails or new foods?

What do you think?


  1. I think you're right about "brave" implying that trying new foods is "scary." Not a good connotation at all.

  2. I agree that it implies that trying new foods is scary. Depending on the circumstances, though, I think it can also serve as a way to define a category of Other and to reinforce that that category Isn't Us and that whatever the Other does is Just Plain Weird. I get the "you're so brave" comment a lot when I tell people some of the things I ate for school lunch during my year working in Japan (because of course people always want to know what kinds of things are served for lunch in Japanese schools and they always want to know how I, a notoriously picky eater, survived). These days I know that trying different food isn't an act of bravery. It's an act of curiosity and/or necessity, at least in my life. But I can also totally see a younger, more impressionable version of myself hearing someone comment that someone else was "so brave" for eating sushi/shishamo/hijiki/fried squid rings/etc. and somehow turn that into the idea that Japanese food is automatically weird and weird food can't possibly be good food and from there decide to never ever try Japanese food or anything ever used in Japanese food.

    In short: Declaring that act of trying new foods as brave can not only set up the idea that trying new foods is scary, but it cal also set up the idea that certain foods (and maybe anything associated with them) are weird and abnormal and that maybe it's better to just not try them at all.

  3. This made me think of this parenting article I read recently:

    I was a kid who got praised a lot. I am also someone who wants to please others (at my own expense at times) which is likely related. This expresses itself in food issues frequently, even now as an adult.

  4. Thanks everyone! Theresa, I am dying to know what you ate, and can't wait to someday (fingers crossed) go to Japan and taste it all!!!
    QD, studies show that parents don't believe small children when they tell them they are full. The VAST majority of parents push small children to eat MORE... Think there is a link with unhealthy weight gain and disordered eating? You bet! Praise and rewards are common tools in the parental pressure arsenal...

  5. That would make me laugh if someone described my kids eating something as "brave"! Literally. I might laugh at them and tell them to save the brave title for the little girl's roller coaster rides. Now THOSE can be scary (at least to me... my daughter seems unafraid... in fact she was reassuring ME today)! Food is not inherently scary.

  6. Ugh... that would annoy me to no end!

    I feel like I have to be constantly vigilant with my daughter's daycare providers re: giving her feedback on her eating. I check-in with them several times a year on the whole "please don't praise/criticize her eating, I trust her to make her choices from what I give her, etc... etc... and they say that that's what they do but then she comes home and makes comments about her eating ("look, Mom, I ate everything on my plate!") that worry me.

    While I DO - in general - tell my daughter that I like it when she tries new things, I don't make that comment around her food choices.

  7. Well, I think it would be a sorry comment on food you are used to eat, but I can understand it from somebody who never tried anything "unusual". I personnally do not eat snails(even though I saw a lot of people enjoying them...), and would feel very brave if I tried them one day !