I think this might be my new theme song. I know it was written for Sesame Street, but I can't stop listening to it. It's catchy, just puts a smile on my face and I love the sentiments expressed: "I will always be the best me I can be...there's nothing I can't achieve because in myself I believe".
I think that, as parents, we all have the goal of giving our children a sense of self-worth and confidence. How this is accomplished isn't always clear to us though. It has recently been suggested that our natural instincts to praise our children's every accomplishment may, in fact, have the opposite effect we intend. This excerpt from "NurtureShock: New Thinking About Children" is titled The Inverse Power of Praise and one of the main points the researchers make is that simply praising a young child for being "smart" can actually be crippling as he then becomes afraid to push himself for fear of no longer being thought of as smart; whereas praising effort in a child actually encourages them to do (and enjoy doing) things they might possibly fail at because they believe what matters is how hard they try.
"Dweck [the researcher] had suspected that praise could backfire, but even she was surprised by the magnitude of the effect. "Emphasizing effort gives a child a variable that they can control," she explains. "They come to see themselves as in control of their success. Emphasizing natural intelligence takes it out of the child's control, and it provides no good recipe for responding to a failure."As with any parenting research I think it's important to use common sense; of course it's OK to tell your kids they're smart now and then (and frankly, as a proud mom, it's hard not to); but I do believe strongly in the power of praising effort over intelligence, just as I believe it is more helpful to comment on a child's painting with questions about and descriptions of what you see, as opposed to a simple "oh, that's so beautiful". The former expands their thinking, your child learns nothing from the latter except that, perhaps, their next picture might not be "beautiful".
Author and lecturer, Alfie Kohn, takes aim at a phrase parents (me included) seem to use with our children at every turn; "Good Job!" is exclaimed for every accomplishment from taking those first steps to pooping in the toilet. His article, "Five Reasons To Stop Saying Good Job", brings up some very interesting research and concepts for those who look at this comment as simply a way to encourage our children.
"The more we say, "I like the way you…." or "Good ______ing," the more kids come to rely on our evaluations, our decisions about what’s good and bad, rather than learning to form their own judgments. It leads them to measure their worth in terms of what will lead us to smile and dole out some more approval...Does praise motivate kids? Sure. It motivates kids to get praise. Alas, that’s often at the expense of commitment to whatever they were doing that prompted the praise."
|Our kids: confident and self-assured|
- I am a big believer in labeling and describing things for our children. I really try to pay attention to what is going on for them, guess what they may be feeling in a particular instance and then label the emotions for them.
- I also try to label my own emotions as they're happening (mommy is feeling really frustrated, mommy is nervous, mommy is excited etc.); this gives them the language to express themselves and to begin to understand what they're experiencing. It also helps them understand that grownups have big feelings too. Children have the same emotions we do, the only difference is that we have more practice at regulating them.
- Be sure to give them a rich vocabulary of words, not just "good" and "bad", and do this from very early on; baby talk isn't helping anyone.
- Additionally, helping them to connect the consequences of their actions to how it makes others feel has been quite helpful ("Do you see her face? How do you think she feels when you do that?").
- Help them see that talking about feelings is a good thing by expanding on their questions when they ask a question like "why is that boy crying"; ask them what they think might have happened, what are reasons that people cry, what feelings do you have when you cry and so on.
- When you discipline, focus on teaching coping skills as opposed to extinguishing the behavior; as therapist and parent educator Dr. Pamela Varady says, by teaching your children empathy, conflict resolution, delayed gratification and responsibility for choices you "get to say goodbye to the unappealing jobs parents unwittingly assume: cop, judge and jury, and say hello to the pleasurable and rewarding job of [becoming] our children's emotional coach".
- Really try to tune in to your children; feeling "felt" is one of the greatest gifts we can give someone else. It also is a sure-fire way to calm a tantrum or a meltdown.
- I love the new website The Mother Company and their concept for teaching children about feelings. They have a delightful group of videos, a new DVD coming out and even a "happy song" recorded by the wonderful Elizabeth Mitchell. Check The Mother Company out, they're really on to something!
Thanks for reading!
The Twin Coach
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