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Experts Say You Shouldn't Praise Children (But I Think The Experts Are Wrong)

02/02/2016 01:16 EST | Updated 02/02/2017 05:12 EST
Rubberball/Nicole Hill via Getty Images
boy with gold star

All it was, was a sticker. A gold star -- not a whole lot bigger than a thumb tack. Yet it meant the world.

Last year, my son came home with stickers, lots of them. Pretty much daily, he'd descend the stairs of the bus sporting a sticker of some kind smack dab in the middle his forehead (his own version of a display case). Typically, he hadn't done a lot to merit that sticker, except generally follow the rules the way kids are expected to. And because of the frequency with which he came home bearing stickers, they had entirely lost significance.

This gold star, however, was different. For a start, it came from a new teacher at a new school.

One day the librarian rushed over to his teacher and, oblivious to my presence, commended my 7 year old. Earlier on, a classmate had taken ill. My son expressed concern and tried to help his friend feel better. Big deal, you say.

Except, in this case, it was. My son has Asperger's Syndrome, or high functioning autism as it's now called. Though extremely caring, he doesn't show empathy in the traditional sense. And it's this point that has given Aspies such bad press. They are seen as cold, unfeeling when in fact, they simply fail to pick up on non-verbal cues that everyone else gets.

So that star came at a time when my son had been struggling at school. There's so much going on for him to process. All the noise and chaotic excitement. All the concentration and the listening. All the social interaction. There is so much required of him. Sometimes the littlest thing -- like the lead breaking in his pencil -- can cause him to melt down.

Simply making it to 3:30 is extremely hard for my son and others with special needs. Kids like him tend to get a lot of attention in the classroom. And so do their parents. When the school's number flashes on our phones, we go cold. We hold our breath. What now? we think or, Not again. We dread being pulled aside by teachers or reading notes left in student agendas.

You can imagine my surprise to find that there had been an upset that his teacher neglected to tell me. She said something along the lines of 'what happens in class, stays in class.' Unless it's serious, of course. She didn't want to harp on and on about his challenges because, as a mom in her own right, she probably knows how that kind of reporting can wear you down day after day. And she's absolutely right.

Experts say you shouldn't praise children. I'm no psychologist, but I think they're wrong. Kids absolutely need to be praised. They deserve to be celebrated -- for the right reasons. I don't beat on to my son about how smart or handsome he is (though of course I'm biased on both counts). But when that gold star came along, I didn't skimp on the praise.

Instead, for one full day I allowed myself to bask in the glow of this small thing my son had done right, rather than steel myself against all the things he'd done wrong.

A version of this article originally appeared at YummyMummyClub.ca.