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The Experience of Being Praised and Scolded

This article is an excerpt from: Benesse Educational Research Center, 1998. Homerare taiken shikarare taiken Monogurafu shogakusei nau, Vol. 18, no. 3. Tokyo: Benesse Corporation. (Supervising Editor is Prof. Masashi Fukaya of Tokyo Seitoku Junior College)


An increasing number of parents find themselves unable to scold their children. Parents are expected to raise their children by acknowledging their good behaviors and traits or by respecting their individuality. However, many parents lack confidence and are hesitant to discipline children. On the other hand, there are numerous other problems related to childrearing, such as child abuse and parents who scold their children in other ways that are inappropriate. Due to the decreasing births of children, parents have higher expectations for their children. This has resulted in many problems related to discipline. One instance is the tendency to evaluate children by their academic achievement, namely, their grades. Parents lack also confidence, and lack patience and tolerance. This can be compounded by a lack of support from other sources, financial issues, and problems between the parents themselves.

Children undergo various experiences as they develop. This implies the acquisition of life skills, experience in nature and developing interpersonal skills. In addition, emotional experience such as pleasure, sorrow, anger and jealousy is also important in teaching them about life and their relationship to others.

In order for children to grow from their experience of being disciplined, children must have a strong sense of self-esteem. This confidence or self-respect comes, in part, from the experience of being acknowledged for good behavior and achievements. A good balance of feeling praised and being disciplined are necessary for the socialization of children.

This survey examines the experience from the children's perspective of being praised or scolded and the meaning this may hold for them. The survey covered 1,828 elementary school students in the fourth through sixth grades (1,791) and was conducted in June and July of 1998.


(1) Subject:
Experience of being praised or scolded
(2) Focus:
Parents and teachers find the appropriate degree of praise and discipline a challenge when raising children. We asked children about their experience of being praised or scolded by their parents. When are they praised or scolded by their father and mother, and to what extent? How do parents praise or scold their children? Do children understand why they are being scolded or praised? Do they object? What way of scolding is acceptable to children? We examined these questions in detail. We also inquired their experience of being praised or scolded by adults in the community other than their parents.

The latter half of the survey shows the results of an analysis of the experience of being severely scolded. Child abuse is becoming a recognized social problem in Japan today. In circumstances, where children are severely scolded, we asked about these situations, and how they feel.
(3) Topics:
Situations in which children are praised or scolded by parents. Method of praising or scolding children. Children's opinions about the way parents praise or scold them. The experience of being praised or scolded by adults other than family members. Children's evaluation of their parents. Characteristic of parents. Children's self perceptions. The experience of being severely scolded.
(4) Date:
June to July 1998
(5) Sample population:
Elementary school students in the fourth through sixth grades in Tokyo and Chiba (nine schools, sixty-six classes)
(6) Method:
Distribution of questionnaires at schools
(7) Number of valid responses:


CRN note: The numbers of the tables in parentheses will be hyper linked and discussed in detail in the coming chapters.

(1) In many cases, mothers scold children regarding their attitude toward their parents (e.g., they do not answer when their parents are talking to them), their home life (e.g., when they take money and spend it on something to eat), their studies and their way of life. However, a trend has emerged among younger Japanese parents, not to scold their children (Table 1).

The situations in which children are scolded does not differ much between mothers and fathers. No clear division of labor between mothers and fathers can be observed involving discipline as was apparent in the past (Table 1 and 2).

Children are well-acknowledged for their achievements or accomplishments by their mothers (i.e., when they win first prize in a race on Sports Day or in a swimming contest; get a perfect score on a test at school or cram school). They are also praised for high evaluations related to their studies. Children are praised less for social conduct or for their behaviors when compared to being praised for doing something good in their studies or home life (Table 3).

(2) In most cases, parents scold their children by giving verbal warnings (70% of mothers and 50% of fathers). Fewer than 20% of the children reported being scolded for a prolonged period of time for no apparent reason or being abused mentally or physically through corporal punishment or by being neglected (Table 4).

Many parents give verbal praise, saying "That was great." Additionally, many parents, especially fathers (Table 5), give material rewards such as money or other items. Two-thirds of the children feel more positive when they are praised, and are motivated to do better next time so that they will be praised again. On the contrary, 30% feel frustrated about not being praised by their parents no matter what they do (Table 6).

70% of the children report that parents listen to their excuses or justifications when they are scolded. Children seem to understand that parents listen to their side of the situation and scold them for good reason (Table 7).

Children expect to be given verbal warnings by their mother as is indicated by their extremely rare low rating for her for this reason. On the contrary, it may be difficult for children to consider their mother in a favorable light if they are not scolded on a regular basis or if they do not have a stable relationship with her. Interestingly, however, children seem to rate fathers highly when they do not scold them too much (Table 8, 9, 10, and 11).

(3) Fathers were observed to scold their sons more than their daughters as well as scolding them more severely. Fathers also were seen as praising their daughters more than their sons. No significant gender difference was observed in terms of the treatment of boys and girls (Table 12, 13, and 14).

(4) In the upper grades, children were reported to be scolded in one particular situation. This is when they do not attend or take their scheduled lessons. This is probably because of the higher expectations held by parents when their children are studying for entrance exams. These children, however, are scolded less for other reasons. Nevertheless, children in the upper grades feel more annoyed with the way their parents scold them, making them less willing to do what they are expected. A higher percentage of children express antipathy or dislike toward their parents (Table 15, 16, 17 and 18) and do not communicate with them at mealtimes (Table 19).

(5) When mothers hit or spank their children, their fathers treat them similarly. Furthermore, when mothers praise their children, fathers praise them, too (Table 20 and 21).

(6) Children report that they are rarely scolded by other people in the community. Half had been scolded while playing outside, but in many cases, they felt they were not scolded by other people even when they were doing something wrong. However, many had been praised by people in their community. About 70% were praised when they ran errands, played with smaller children in the neighborhood, or greeted their neighbors courteously (Table 22 and 23).

(7) More than 80% had been hit by their parents. Other harsh punishments reported by the children included making children stay outside, oral reprimands, restrictions on their behavior and ignoring them (Table 24).

Looking back at their experience of being severely scolded, less than 25% thought that they were scolded too harshly. Moreover, approximately 15% felt that their punishment was justified because they were wrong, or affirmed their experience of being severely scolded (Table 25).

The more frequently children are hit or spanked by their parents, the more they feel that their parents do not understand or listen to them (Table 26 and 27).

(1) When are children praised or scolded?

According to Table 1, children believe their mothers scolded them most when they took money without permission and spent it on snacks. 61% feel that they are scolded severely. Mothers may see this act as a precursor of stealing rather than actually being worried about buying and eating snacks. Ranked second was when the children talked back and told their parents to "shut up" as indicated by the 45% answered that they were scolded severely for this. Other situations in which they scold their children involve their children's attitudes towards their parents or family life such as not cleaning their desks or their rooms for many days or not answering their parents. They are also scolded about their studies and lifestyle such as when they do not take their scheduled lessons or when they stay up late and watch TV. However, the children are not scolded very often when they neglect to do something they do not like, when they are not careful when riding a bicycle, or when they forget to help their parents. This exemplifies the recent trend in which parents do not scold their children very much. 16% of parents scold their children severely when they are noisy or play around in restaurants, but less so when children look the other way when their parents greet neighbors, or when children do not offer their seat to an elderly person in the train.

Table 2 refers to situations in which fathers scold their children, indicating they scold their children to almost the same degree as mothers do. Fathers scold their children more severely than mothers in situations that involve with parental authority such as when children tell their parents to "shut up" or when they do not answer their parents. Fathers also scold them more for their public behavior such as when children are noisy and play around in restaurants. There is only a difference of a few percentage points between fathers and mothers who give their children a severe scolding. No clear division in the roles of mothers and fathers is observed in scolding patterns as was seen in the past.

Table 3 shows that mothers often praise their children. Children are most often praised for their achievements or academic performance. And much less what they do at home such as cleaning their rooms without being told or helping make meals without being told. Children report that they are not praised very often. Less than 20% of the mothers praise their children very often for their social manners.

(2) How parents praise or scold their children

Table 4 indicates how mothers and fathers scold their children. When children are scolded by their mothers, 70% are frequently given verbal warnings and 26% are shouted at quite often. 16% say they are often subject to prolonged scolding. 13% are hit or subject to other forms of corporal punishment. 8% are often ignored by their parents for a period of time, but it is questionable whether these methods of scolding are effective or appropriate. In some instances, these types of disciplining methods could be considered child abuse. Fathers scold their children in almost the same way as mothers. 20% more mothers than fathers give verbal warnings, but there is almost no difference between mothers' and fathers' when it comes to shouting, prolonged scolding, hitting and other corporal punishment.

How do parents, then praise their children? According to Table 5, 65% of the children are often or sometimes praised verbally with such expressions as "That was great!" or "Well done!" These verbal expressions seem to be very effective, meaningful and encouraging for children. The questionnaire did not ask parents specifically about the behavior for which children were praised. Praising children by giving some kind of extrinsic reward may sometimes be effective, but the figure seems to be too high. Fathers reward their children more by taking them somewhere or by buying them something more often than mothers. Since fathers do not verbally reprimand their children as often as mothers, they seem to be more favorably evaluated than mothers. Neither fathers nor mothers praise their children in front of other adults very often.

Table 6 shows how children think of the way they are praised by their parents. 30.6% feel they will try to work hard so they will be praised again. This implies that the experience of being praised may lead them to be more positive in respect to feeling greater motivation or confidence. On the other hand, 30% feel that they are not praised no matter what they do.

As is shown in Table 7, almost 70% of the children answer that both fathers and mothers patiently ask the reason for their behavior. Thus, children believe their parents listen to them with patience and scold them appropriately. Although children do not like to be scolded by their parents, it may be that they may feel dissatisfied if they are not scolded much because parental warnings can be seen as a type of communication between parents and children. This is indicated in Table 8, which shows how children regard their mothers after being scolded. Regardless of the frequency of being scolded, children view being reprimanded in a positive way, saying that mothers gave helpful advice. About 40% feel their mothers give helpful advice even though they may not feel like going to school.

Similarly, as indicated in Table 9, about 60% answered that they liked their mothers very much, regardless of the degree to which they were scolded. However, a small number of children who answered that they were not given verbal reprimands very often had a different view. A higher percentage of them (21%) did not think their mothers gave them helpful advice (Table 8). Not many children in this category like their mothers very much (Table 9). This is not seen in children who are often given verbal warnings by their mothers. Children seem to expect to be given verbal warnings by their mothers and they do not dislike or evaluate their mothers negatively because of this. Moreover, children who do not have a very close relationship with their mothers and are not given verbal warnings very often seem to find it more difficult to have a positive image of their mothers.

What is the case for fathers then? As is shown in Table 10, fathers do not give helpful advice as often as mothers do. However, although fathers verbally reprimand their children less frequently, children seem to feel that fathers give them more helpful information. Table 11 asks whether children like their fathers and shows that fathers who give less verbal warnings are liked better, which is opposite from the case with mothers. The less verbal warnings given by the fathers, the higher the evaluation they are given by their children. Children usually have close contact with their mothers and expect them to say something helpful although this may sometimes constitute a verbal warning. On the other hand, children expect their fathers to give them good advice if something serious happens although they have less contact with them.

(3) Gender difference

Table 12 shows the percentage of boys and girls who answered that they were scolded severely by their fathers for the behaviors listed in Table 1 and 2. There is a gender difference in most of the items and girls are scolded much less severely. Table 13 indicates there is a gender difference in father's praise of their children. Both mothers and fathers praise their daughters more often than their sons. Additionally, fathers praise their daughters more than mothers, possibly reflecting their concern for daughters who are reaching the age of puberty. On the contrary, boys are scolded more severely even though they engage in the same behavior as girls and are also praised less. However, no large gender difference was observed in the way parents interacted with their children, as had been expected.

Table 14 shows gender differences when it comes to hitting children or administering corporal punishment. Boys are scolded through corporal punishment by their mothers and especially by their fathers, more often compared with girls. 30% of boys and about 50% of girls have never been administered corporal punishment by their fathers. Gender differences are seen more clearly in the case of fathers compared with mothers.

(4) Difference by grade

Table 15 shows the percentage of children whose fathers scold them severely by grade. The only behavior for which fathers scold their children in the 6th grade is not taking scheduled lessons. This may be because they are increasingly concerned about taking exams to enter junior high school. Regarding other behaviors, children are scolded less as they progress from the 4th to the 6th grade. A similar trend can be seen for mothers scolding patterns, but the percentage decline significantly for fathers as children get older. As children get older, fathers may trust their children's independence or judgment more than their mothers. However, it is regrettable that a similar trend is observed when disciplining for social behavior. If parents are to respect their children's independence, they should scold them properly for their social misbehavior. In general, there seems to be a trend in which adults scold children less and less. Table 16, 17, and 18 indicate how children think of the ways their parents scold them by grade. As their age increases, more children report the ways in which their parents scold them as annoying and discouraging. An increasing number of children also express feelings of antipathy, dislike, or resistance towards their parents as they grow older. Perhaps, this is in part due to children in the upper elementary grades wanting to deviate from social norms or parental control, this may be the period in which they try to search for their own values and their friends' judgements. They may be discovering ways to be more independent and, as a result, resist oppressive parental attitudes such as prolonged scolding or corporal punishment.

(5) Parent-child relationship and types of parents

Table 19 shows what children think of the atmosphere in their respective families and the relationship with their parents based on the way in which their parents scold them. Out of those children who always think that their parents scold them too much, 34% of them report that the family does not communicate very much during meals. The figure is much higher than children who think that their parents do not scold them very much. It follows that parents who scold their children, rarely talk with their families during meals. Similarly, many children who do not talk much with family members during meals think that their parents scold them in ways that are annoying and discouraging, or they feel considerable dislike toward their parents. On the contrary, children who think that they themselves are to blame when they are scolded by their parents, or that they will do better next time - that is, those who honestly admit their faults and try to behave better, often talk with their families during meals.

Both mothers and fathers scold their children in a similar manner as seen in Table 20. Those who are hit or given corporal punishment by their mothers are also corporally punished by their fathers.

Table 21 indicates how parents praise their children. The children who are praised by mothers by saying, "Good job!" are praised by fathers in the same manner. Being praised and scolded are important for a child's development, but how children accept these experiences depends upon how parents relate to their children. However, children may sometimes feel they are in a hopeless situation. Hence, a social structure of some kind outside of the home seems to be necessary to compensate for family problems.

(6) The experience of being praised or scolded

The figures in Table 22 indicate that children are rarely scolded by other adults. About half of the children said that they had been scolded more than once when playing around outside. In many other situations, however, children are not scolded at all by other adults even when they misbehave. This exemplifies a decreasing trend in the educational role of the community. Since we do not see many children playing outside these days, they are rarely scolded by other adults for such misbehavior.

Table 23 shows the extent to which children have been praised by adults other than their parents. They were praised slightly more than expected. More than 70% have been praised by others more than once for helping their parents when, for instance, running an errand. Also, about 70% have been praised more than once for playing with younger neighborhood children, greeting neighbors, and giving someone directions. Thus, a trend can be detected where adults do not scold children in the community but rather praise them more often.

(7) Experiences of being scolded severely

As for children who have been severely scolded, as shown in Table 24, quite a large number have been hit by their parents. In fact, more than 80% of them have been hit at least once. However, other means of punishment, such as not being allowed to come in the house, pinched, being forced to skip a meal, or ignored, are not often used.

In Table 25, despite being severely scolded (i.e., subjected to corporal punishment and verbal reprimands, made to stay out of the house), less than one-fourth of the children thought that the punishment was excessive. Rather, about 15% reflected on their misbehavior and considered the punishment to be justified because they were at fault.

Table 26 shows the relationship between the experience of being hit and the degree to which they think their parents understand them. 43% who have never been hit by their parents think that their parents understand them very well. The figures go down for those who are hit more frequently. Only 27% of those who have been hit many times think that their parents understand them very well.

In the same way, Table 27 asks whether their parents listen to them patiently. Children who have been hit many times do not think their parents listen to them very well. Parents sometimes have to be harsh with their children, and it can be difficult to exercise proper judgment in upbringing. However, we must keep in mind that children may feel that their parents do not understand them very well when they are subject to severe scolding.