Tag Archive for success

Do Your Child a Favor: LOVE Mistakes

One-hundred-twenty-three children played this video game, all 7-years-old.  No, it’s not the start of a bad joke. It’s the start of an interesting study about learning. Anyway, the children played a fast-paced game in which each player helped a zoo-keeper capture escaped animals by pressing the space bar when an animal appeared UNLESS…(there is always an “unless,” an exception) a group of three “orangutan friends” appeared. These “orangutan friends” were helping capture the other animals. They were “allies,” so the player had to refrain from capturing them. Although the children had fun playing the video game, the real purpose of the game was to test accuracy and impulse control (not pushing the space bar when the three “orangutan friends” appeared). One more thing you need to know—the whole time the 7-year-olds played, researchers monitored their brain activity. In particular, they wanted to know what happened in the brain when a child makes a mistake.

They discovered that some children exhibited a significant increase in brain activity about half-a-second after making a mistake, indicating their awareness of the mistake and their attention to what went wrong. These children exhibited improvement in their performance after making a mistake.

Another group of children did not exhibit this significant change in brain activity when they made a mistake. They seemed to “gloss over” the mistake and mentally avoid acknowledging it. Their performance did not improve. They continued to play and make the same mistakes over again.

Of course, the implication of these results seems obvious: when we pay attention to our mistakes we learn from them and improve our future performance. So why do so many children not pay attention to mistakes? Perhaps they have never learned the importance of acknowledging and learning from mistakes. As a parent, you can help remedy this situation and increase your children’s ability to learn by loving mistakes!

  1. Love your own mistakes. When you make a mistake, acknowledge it. No need to get defensive or angry. Simply acknowledge the mistake. Attend to that mistake and figure out how you can avoid it in the future. In other words, learn from your mistake. Talk to your children about mistakes you have made, what you learned from those mistakes, and how you corrected it. Modeling this type of response to mistakes will create an environment in which your children are free to do the same.
  2. Love your children’s mistakes. When you children make a mistake, address it calmly and directly. Don’t belittle them for the mistake, but don’t gloss over it either. Don’t shy away from the mistake with a simply, “It’s OK, you’ll do better next time.” Address the mistake. “You made a mistake. Mistakes happen. Let’s figure out where you went wrong and how we can fix it.” The opportunity to figure the mistake out opens the door for improvement. So explore the mistake. Talk about the mistake and what might fix it. Then enjoy the solution.

When we love our mistakes children will learn to accept mistakes as a learning opportunity. They will delve into challenges with little fear of mistakes or failure because they know mistakes lead to growth. They will pay attention to their mistakes and improve the next time; and, as a result, they will enjoy greater confidence in the present and success in the future.

Build Your Child’s Success Mindset

I overheard two college students talking about their classes. I was eating a bagel but I couldn’t help overhearing. Their conversation went something like this:

“I can’t believe you got an ‘A’ on that test. I’m just not that good at math. But you’re smart.”

“Not really. I just sat with the study group and reviewed everything. That was a big help.”

Did you catch the difference in how these two students talked about success? Only the second student talked about studying and believed it helpful. “To study or not to study” flows from the student’s belief systems about self and growth. The first student seemed to believe her math knowledge is fixed. She’s “just not that good at math.” The second student believes study can lead to improvement. In fact, participating in a study group “was a big help.” Carol Dweck, a professor at Stanford University, would likely say the first student shows a fixed mindset. A person with a fixed mindset believes intelligence and ability are fixed or unchangeable. They spend time protecting their fixed ability by avoiding challenges and only engaging in activities in which they know they can succeed and, by succeeding, maintain their image. They tend to look at the end result for validation rather than the process and effort invested.

The second student displays more of what Carol Dweck calls a growth mindset. People with a growth mindset believe intelligence and abilities can be developed. They embrace challenges and persist in the face of obstacles. They persist because they believe effort will help them grow. When they encounter failure, they consider it an opportunity to learn what they can do differently to obtain greater success in the future.  For instance, they might try a different strategy, focus on a different detail, or develop a certain skill to help them experience future success. In other words, success comes through effort and intentionally improving strategies and skills.

As you can imagine, a growth mindset creates greater possibility for success. Fortunately, parents can help their children develop a growth mindset, one that focuses on the effort, strategies, and process that contribute to success. Parents teach children a growth mindset in the way they talk to their children. Consider the following examples.

Statements Promoting a Fixed Mindset Statements Promoting a Growth Mindset
“You’re really good at that.” “You put a lot of work into that.”
“You did poorly on that test. I guess it’s not your subject.” “You did badly on that test—what did you learn from the ones you missed?”
“You’re the only one who scored.” “What made you keep working so hard to score?”
“Nice job on that piano piece.” “Wow. That took a lot of practice. How will you challenge yourself to keep practicing the next one?”
“You are a good artist.” “I like the colors you chose. How have you worked to improve your talent?”
“That’s just not in your skill set, is it?” “What strategies might help you improve?”
“That was a terrible performance.” “What did you learn from that performance?”
“We won. That was a great game.” “What did you and your team do to make this game go so well.”
“I can’t get this.” “This is a challenge for you. What strategies have you tried? What new strategies could you try?”
“That was a big fail.” “It’s OK to take a risk. What can you do different next time after what you learned today?

Changing statements and questions from those that promote a fixed mindset to those that promote a growth mindset will help your children develop a growth mindset…and that will increase their chances of experiencing success in life!

A Lesson for Graduates from Blind Bartimeaus

My youngest daughter graduated from high school this year. She and several of her classmates have encountered many painful obstacles on their journey toward graduation. They have comforted one another through an unusually high number of struggles and deep losses. But, this year they received their diplomas and set their sights on higher Overcomehopes, greater dreams, and richer visions of conquest. As I watched them graduate, my mind wandered to the story of a man name Bartimeaus. Bartimeaus was blind. Like you, he faced many obstacles trying to get by each day. One day, he heard that a great Teacher, a Merciful Healer, was passing by amidst a crowd of people. Bartimeaus cried out to the Teacher for help. The Teacher didn’t respond, so Bartimeaus yelled louder. The people around the Teacher told Bartimeaus to give it up. Stop yelling. Just sit back and stay where you are, a blind man begging on the side of the road.  But blind Bartimeaus had a greater vision than those around him. He knew the Teacher was a Merciful Healer. Even though physically blind, Bartimeaus saw beyond the moment to greater possibilities. He had higher hopes. He brushed aside the naysayers and those who wanted to keep him down. He cried out above those who tried to silence him. He pursued is dream of gaining the Teacher’s attention. When everyone else told him to stop and give up, he persisted. He bet everything he had on the hope of being healed by the Merciful Healer. Then, it happened. The Teacher called for Bartimeaus. Bartimeaus threw aside his cloak and jumped up. He left everything he owned. He threw off every encumbrance to answer the Teacher’s call. He approached the Merciful Healer only to find one more hurdle. The Teacher presented one final obstacle. He asked Bartimeaus a question: “What do you want Me to do for you?” Without hesitation, Bartimeaus announced his deepest desire—to see. The Teacher granted him that desire and gave Bartimeaus his sight. His dogged determination had paid off. Having obtained the sight he had only dreamed of, Bartimeaus discovered yet another, even greater, reward. He saw the face of the Teacher who had given him his sight.

To my daughter and those who graduated with her, I know you have encountered several obstacles and struggles in your high school career. You will encounter many more as you continue your journey through life. Like Bartimeaus, don’t give up. You will encounter naysayers and people who want to keep you down. Call out for your dreams all the louder. People will try to deter you from reaching toward your dreams. They will try to convince you settle. They will tell you to sit back and stay where you are. Don’t do it; become yet more determined. They will try to silence you. Don’t let them. Persist more doggedly. When others try to dissuade you from Teacher’s dream in your life, pursue that vision even more vigorously. The Teacher will hear you. He will call for you. When He does, throw aside every encumbrance. Let nothing hold you back. He will likely ask you what you want (even though He already knows). Let your excitement overflow as you share your dream with Him. Proclaim the vision He has planted in your heart. Your steadfast pursuit, your tenacious persistence, and your resilient determination will pay off when you realize your deepest desire. And, you will gain an even greater reward when that happens. You will see the face of the One who has given you the strength to achieve the dream He planted in your heart. Keep your eyes on Him and never give up!

What To Do With Rude, Argumentative Teens

Research from the University of Virginia suggests argumentative, rude teens who pressure others to side may “grow up” to be argumentative, rude adults. More disturbing, these rude-teens-turned-rude-adults report high levels of communication and high levels of parenting challengesatisfaction in their relationships in spite of friends and romantic partners describing them as “impossible to get along with” or “impossible to talk to.” As rude teens, they developed “relationship blindness.” As adults, they remained “blind” to the impact of their negative behaviors on the people around them and their relationships with them. They do not pick up on social cues that allow them to adjust their behavior, to modify it from rude to polite, pushy to accepting, argumentative to cooperative. And, if there is one thing worse than a rude, argumentative teen, it’s a rude, argumentative adult who doesn’t even know how rude and argumentative they are!  None of us want our teens to grow up into a rude adult with “relationship blindness.” So, how do we make sure our teen’s normal argumentative behavior does not develop into relationship blindness leading to life as an argumentative, rude, and pushy adult?

First, and most important, model a better alternative. When you disagree with your spouse, model respect. Listen intently. Speak politely. Allow your spouse to influence you instead of stubbornly insisting he or she agree with you. Do the same with your peers. And, don’t forget to do the same with your teen. Listen tenaciously to understand your teen’s point of view. Remain polite toward your teen, even in the face of their seeming apathy. Look for areas of agreement. Even allow your teen’s point of view to influence you. Our teens learn best by watching us. So live the behavior you want to see in them. Model, model, model…and model again.

Second, provide times for you and your teen to talk.  Teens will become increasingly argumentative when they feel unheard and, as a result, ignored and devalued. Make time to converse. Listen rather than lecture. Become genuinely curious instead of interrogating to gather ammunition to support your perspective. Follow their lead and focus on their ideas and feelings rather than directing the conversation to the morals you desire to emphasize. Avoid giving unsolicited advice and offer simple door-opening responses like “really,” “that’s interesting,” “hmmmm,” or “what did you think/do?”

Third, talk with your teens about how rude, argumentative behavior impacts other people and relationships. Point it out in movies or sitcoms. Don’t overdo it. Just nonchalantly point out the impact of a character’s rude behavior and then go on to other aspects of the show. If they want to talk about the rude behavior, follow their lead. Otherwise, let it go. You can also use real life examples—examples from your own life or their life. Just don’t do it in a rude, argumentative way. Simply point out people’s response to polite behavior versus rude behavior. Point out the results of truly listening and responding to differences of opinion as opposed to constant arguing. Discuss the results of pushy behavior compared to the results of cooperative behavior.

Fourth, model a better alternative. Oh, wait. Did I already say this? Sorry. It’s worth saying it one more time though. Model the life you want your children to live!

Growing Your Child’s Mind for Success

Our children’s success depends on more than talent and ability. In fact, some children have amazing talent but still avoid challenges, shun effort, and shrink from difficulties. They often believe ability is static, fixed or unchanging. This “fixed mindset” (as Carol Dweck calls it in her book Mindset) interferes with progress and growth, hindering children from Fun on the ropesaccepting challenges. It encourages them to give up too soon. On the other hand, children with a “growth mindset” have learned that ability and intelligence can be nurtured and developed. As a result, they embrace challenges, persist when faced with obstacles, and believe effort leads toward mastery. As you can imagine, a growth mindset will contribute to success. In addition, children with growth mindsets don’t just get upset when they experience failure. They persist. They figure out how to improve. As a result, their abilities grow. Here are four ways you can help your children develop a growth mindset.

  • First, set your children up for success by setting achievable goals. Break larger goals into smaller objectives (goals) that are more easily and quickly attainable. Each time they achieve a goal, they experience the benefit of effort. They can see how smaller goals lead to greater goals. They learn to persist. As an example, break down the goal of “cleaning your room” into smaller goals like “make your bed,” “put your clothes away,” “pick up your toys and put them away,” etc.
  • When your children complete a goal or achieve some success, acknowledge their effort and the strategies they used rather than praising their intelligence or ability. Praising traits actually undermines motivation and performance by contributing to a fixed mindset. Consider some of these statements in praising and encouraging your children. Each of these statements will encourage a growth mindset.
    • I really love watching you play.
    • That looks like it took a lot of work.
    • Your hard work is definitely paying off.
    • I can tell you worked hard at learning that.
    • Wow, that took a lot of time and effort, didn’t it?
    • You never gave up.
    • You’re getting better every time.
    • I like that. How did you come up with that idea? Or, how did you learn to do that?
  • Ask your children questions that will promote a growth mindset. You might try some of these ideas.
    • What did you struggle with today?
    • What did you learn today?
    • What was the most interesting thing you did/learned today?
    • What was your biggest challenge this semester? How did you deal with it?
    • How did you figure that out?
    • How many ways did you try before it turned out the way you wanted?
    • That was a challenging situation. What did you learn from it?
    • Tell me more about how you did this?
    • I really like (name a specific aspect of what they have done). What do you like best?
    • What was the most difficult part of doing this? Learning this?
    • Some things take a lot of time to learn. Do you think this is one of them?
  • Use stories of successes that resulted from effort, persistence, and time. Use stories of well-known people (athletes, leaders, scientists, etc.) who overcame obstacles, persisted, and put in great effort to become well known in their field of expertise. Telling stories about family members who overcame obstacles in their life can prove even more effective. Tell about the time and effort family members invested in creating a positive legacy for your family. Stories that reveal the time, effort, and persistence invested in overcoming obstacles are a powerful tool in building growth mindsets.

These four steps will help you build a growth mindset in your children…a growth mindset that will help them embrace the challenges of life, persist in the face of life’s obstacles, and experience growth!

Help My Children Have ANTs in Their Pants…uh, I Mean Brain

If you want to increase your children’s happiness and optimism, you must teach them to exterminate the ANTs—or Automatic Negative Thoughts.  Those ANTs scamper around our children’s thoughts and threaten their happiness and success. ANTs come in many varieties. Let me describe four.

  • Absolute, Permanent ANTs (the AP-ANTs). When stressful events or bad things happen, AP-ANTs shout things like “This always happens to me,” “It will never get better,” and “No one likes me.” Words like “always,” “never,” and “nothing” reveal the AP-ANTs and crush our children’s joy.
  • Critical ANTs (C-ANTs) throw words like “should” and “must” around in your children’s brains. They induce guilt by “shoulding” on them (as Albert Ellis would say). C-ANTs constantly point out flaws, limitations, and mistakes. They throw labels like “stupid,” “loser,” and “failure.” The C-ANTs make our children feel like they CAN’T do anything right.
  • Worry ANTs (W-ANTs) constantly ask “what if…” while anticipating the worst. They create tunnel vision for the negative possibilities and, in so doing, create extreme images of failure and catastrophe. Every mole hill becomes an overwhelming mountain that no one can climb. They bring to mind everything you don’t WANT to think about.
  • Pushover ANTs (P-ANTs) make us feel like victims. They use phrases like “I can’t” or “Nothing will ever change” or “I’ll never be able to….” These phrases make our children feel helpless and hopeless. They encourage our children to feel unworthy and inadequate.

 

You can imagine how these ANTs (Automatic Negative Thoughts) eat away at your children’s happiness and success. So, how can you help exterminate the ANTs in your children’s brains?

  1. Exterminate the ANTs in your own brain. Children learn how to think from their parents. They emulate their parents’ thought patterns as they witness them in their parents’ speech and actions. So, exterminate the ANTs in your own brain. (You can do this by applying steps #2 and #3 to yourself as well as your children.)
  2. Become aware of the ANTs as they arise. Recognize the ANTs for what they are—pests that need exterminated. Listen for the ANTs in your own speech and the speech of your children. It’s hard to hear your children think; so it may be hard to hear the ANTs. But, you can discover the ANTs by probing a bit. Ask your children questions about what is going through their mind, what specifically is upsetting them about the situation, or what are they afraid of. Their answers to these questions may bring the ANTs out of hiding and to the surface where you can exterminate them.
  3. Challenge the ANTs. Don’t accept what the ANTs say at face value. Challenge them. Ask questions to clarify the truth. Ask the AP-ANTs, “Always? Really? What about the time…?” Confront the C-ANTs by asking for the reason you “should” and changing the “should” into an “I’d like.” Make the W-ANTs consider the most positive outcome possible to the “what if…” question. Make it too good to be true, even unbelievable. Remind the P-Ants that you do your best. Success is about effort, not the end result. In fact, we sometimes learn the best lessons from mistakes. So, enjoy the mistakes and keep moving forward (See how Louis Learned this from disaster in this video).
  4. Every time an ANT rears its ugly head and shouts its toxic message, repeat steps #2 and #3. Exterminate the ANT and replace it with a healthier, wiser, and more accurate thought.

 

As you teach your children to exterminate the ANTs in their life, you will see their happiness blossom, their efforts bloom, and their success take root. So start exterminating those ANTs today!

Prime Your Children for Success

Many skills can boost your children’s success, but the ability to communicate well is one of the most important. Effective communication will boost your children’s chance of success in personal life and vocational life.

  • couple talking with can telephoneClear communication will enable your children to effectively express their needs and ideas.
  • Effective communication will empower your children to manage their emotions, harnessing the energy of emotion to work toward a goal they can clearly express.
  • Effective communication involves listening. Good listeners gain a better understanding of other people’s needs and ideas. They respond to those needs and ideas in a practical and useful manner. This decreases conflict.
  • Effective communicators listen in a way that builds relationship and leads to greater intimacy.
  • Effective communicators learn better. They listen well and know how to clearly and politely ask for clarification when needed.

 

Knowing effective communication is essential to your children’s success is one thing; but, how can we teach them to listen well and express thoughts clearly? As with most skills we want our children to learn, the most efficient way to teach them is through every day activities and games. Let me share some examples.

  • The next time you take your children to the park or a local ice cream shop, let them give you the directions to your destination. Follow their directions to the letter, encouraging them to clarify as needed.
  • Play telephone. You know the game. Everyone stands in a circle. The first person whispers a message into the ear of another person, who whispers it in the ear of the next person, and so on around the circle until the message is whispered one final time into the ear of the person who started the process. Will the message remain the same? Depends on how well we listen and how clearly we repeat a message.
  • Simon Says is another game that promotes good listening.
  • Take turns telling stories during dinner. You can tell stories about “a day in our life” or share stories you have read, watched on TV, or heard from others.
  • Play games based on the development and acting out of stories. Playing dolls, dress up, teacher, princess, or mom offer wonderful opportunities to develop communication skills. Encouraging your children to put on a play is another example of activities with a strong theme of communication.
  • Allow your children to blindfold you and your spouse. After you are sufficiently blindfolded, they can give each of you a bowl of ice cream. Then, your children can verbally direct you in feeding one another. You might want to start with something less messy…like popcorn.
  • Encourage your child to speak politely and clearly when ordering in a restaurant. This includes making good eye contact and enunciating while remaining polite.
  • Role play approaching a clerk or teacher with a concern or complaint. You play the clerk or teacher and coach your children in voicing their concern and complaint. Then, accompany them to meet with this person. Let them do the speaking. Your presence merely offers support.

 

As you can see, these ideas represent every day activities and games. I’ve listed only a few ideas; I’m sure you can think of many more. When you do these activities, you will have fun learning to communicate. You will have provided your child with practical experience in effective communication. You have primed them for success.

Teach Your Children to Excel

We all want our children to excel. We may want our children to excel in different areas (sports, academics, music, theatre, dance, socialization, etc.), but we all want them to excel. Nobody wants to point out their children and say, “Yes, my children are mediocre at best.” No, we want our children to work hard and find success. We want them to excel. Unfortunately, we often engage in behavior that limits their ability to excel. We increase our demands and expectations, raising our children’s stress level and fear of failure. Instead of excelling, they succumb to the pressure and fall short. They start to resist or even avoid hard work and so miss out on success. As parents we can help build an environment to encourage our children to excel. Here are some ways to do so.

  • Father and son smiling for the cameraMaintain healthy expectations. Do not expect your children to do more than they are developmentally ready to do. Do not expect them perform above their physical capabilities. On the other hand, do not lower your expectations to make it easy for your children. Children need a realistic challenge to work toward in order to excel. Become a student of your children. Create healthy and realistic yet challenging expectations for their lives.
  • Focus on effort. Instill the value of hard work and effort above achievement and performance. If you focus on achievement and “end products,” your children will believe that success result from natural talent alone. They will avoid difficult tasks for fear that failure reflects a lack of natural ability. Instead, attribute success and failure to effort, not ability. Teach your children that effort and hard work lay the groundwork for achievement. When your children learn to value effort and hard work, they can embrace challenges, overcome obstacles, and learn from mistakes…all of which promote your children’s ability to excel.
  • Maintain a loving relationship with your children, but don’t forget to maintain firm limits Don’t be afraid to discipline your children. Teach them to finish what they start and to think about the cost (in terms of time investment, energy, school requirements, and desired downtime) of an activity before starting. Do not step in to fix problems that arise. Encourage your children to seek a solution and to persist in the face of obstacles. Let them put in the effort to work through the difficulty. Then appreciate that effort.
  • Make it part of your family life. Build the area in which you want your children to excel into the fabric of your home. Make the skills applicable to real life. Become a learner in that area yourself. Converse with your children about topics related to that area. Integrate it into your daily life. Enjoy it together. Make it a topic of conversation and interaction. Learn to have fun with it—laughing, playing, competing, debating, etc. Make it fun.
  • Allow your children to be average! Our children will not excel in every facet of life. They are not in our lives to fulfill our dreams. They will find their greatest joy when they find those areas that interest them. They will grow into happy adults as and invest their energy and time in areas fascinating to them. Allow them to do so. You might just discover that they excel in what is truly important in life—kindness, generosity, perseverance, etc.

 

These five actions will open the door for your children to excel. They take time and thought to implement successfully, but your children will benefit from your efforts. You will likely fall short at times…several times if you are like me. We all make mistakes. Take the time to learn from your mistakes and re-open the door. Each time you do, you teach your children important lessons and help them excel in life.

Beware When Playing With Your Children

I love my memories of playing Barbie, Frisbee, badminton (not a pretty sight I must admit), board games, and many more games with my children. These play activities allowed us to bond with one another. They gave us the opportunity to grow more intimate, to laugh together, and to learn from one another. That being said, playing with our children presents some dangers in today’s world. Let me explain.

  • Happy family playingSome parents want to be their children’s best friend. As their children’s best friend, they intrude into every aspect of their children’s life and remain physically present in every corner of their children’s life. They smudge their fingerprint onto every activity, every game, and every relationship in their children’s life. As a result, their children never learn from other trusted adults or other children; they never develop a life of their own.
  • Some parents believe they must keep their children constantly entertained. They will do anything to keep their children happy and active. They hate to see a look of boredom cross their children’s face. So they manage their children’s every waking hour, scheduling an endless cycle of activity. When no outside activity is available, they orchestrate an activity of their own to keep their children busy. Their children never learn how to schedule their own time. They never learn how to entertain themselves.
  • Some parents take over the activity. Stating a desire to teach their children, these parents simply take over. You know, the child begins a video game but the parent jumps in to show them how to do it. Next thing you know, the child sits idly by while the parent plays the game. Or the parent jumps in to show them the “proper way” to clean the table or complete the math problem on their homework…and the child merely watches. Unfortunately, this parent has sent a subtle message that the child is incompetent and incapable.
  • Some parents get caught up in worry about their children’s safety and become over-protective. As a result, this parent limits their children’s play. No activities that might result in injury are allowed. No wandering too far from home. No possibility of failure. These parents teach their children that the world is not a safe place and mistakes are bad. The children come to believe a person cannot recover from failures. As a result, these children limit their activities and their exploration. They avoid risk and challenge. They miss the opportunity for success that healthy risk-taking can promote.

 

How can a parent avoid these dangers?  Put these four ideas into practice.

  1. A parent’s job is more than play. Children benefit from parents who play with them. However, children also need parents who discipline and teach. Teach your children appropriate behavior. Teach them how to entertain themselves. Teach them to manage their time. Teach them to creatively seek out activities independently.
  2. Children do not need constant entertaining. It is okay to experience boredom. In fact, boredom may pave the way to curious exploration and creative discovery. At the very least, boredom teaches children that they are responsible for their own entertainment and fun.
  3. Let your children take some risks. I don’t mean to let them jump off skyscrapers. But, let them take some age appropriate, healthy risks. Remember, healthy risks can lead to great learning and success. Allow your children to make mistakes and experience failures. The best learning often occurs in that moment of failure.
  4. Allow older siblings and other adults the opportunity to supervise your children and their activities. Children can learn a lot from other adults. Sometimes they will learn more easily from other adults than they do from their parents. So let your children get involved with other trusted adults. And, let older siblings watch children. The older sibling can learn responsibility and takes the role of mentor more seriously when parents allow them to influence their younger sibling more directly.

 

Yes, playing with your children carries some risk. Don’t get lost in overprotecting, intruding, managing, or entertaining. Instead, remember to teach, allow some boredom, encourage healthy risks, and provide opportunities to learn from other mature adults.

The Dark Side of Praise

What should parents do when their children do something well? Praise them, of course! Praise them with statements like: “You are so smart.” “That is a beautiful picture.” “Good job cleaning your room.”  Well…at least common knowledge on the street says to praise a job well done. However, praise does have a dark side. Let me give you three examples from the dark side of praise.

daumen hoch - rahmen aus vielen händen

When we praise our children by attributing their success to some natural ability, we create an environment primed for underachievement! In one study, two groups of students were praised for completing a puzzle. One group was praised for their natural ability–“You are really smart.” The other group was praised for their effort—”You worked hard on that puzzle.” Sometime later, both groups were given the opportunity to choose another puzzle to complete: a hard puzzle or an easy puzzle. The children who had been praised for their natural ability overwhelmingly chose the easy puzzle while those children praised for their effort choose the harder, more challenging, puzzle. Attributing our children’s success to natural ability means they have no power to influence their success.  It is natural to them or they cannot do it. And, to fail means “my ability is limited…and so am I.”  A person cannot change what they have no power over. Attributing success to effort, on the other hand, gives our children a realistic measure of control. They can accept a challenge because they believe that exerting more effort will bring greater success.

 

Another study found that students quickly identified insincere praise. Students learned that praise from their teacher actually indicated a student’s limited ability. They learned their teachers tended to praise the poorer students, those with less ability, in an effort to encourage them to perform better. In other words, students recognize blarney when they hear it…and so will our kids!

 

One other aspect of the dark side of praise is seen in excessive praise. When we overpraise our children, they learn to work only for the praise. They may also seek constant reassurance, doubting their ability unless fawned over with praise. Or, an activity with little inherent praise (like household chores or expected study habits) will leave them unmotivated, uninterested. They only have interest in receiving praise, not in learning and achieving for the intrinsic joy of doing so.

 

Praise is not all bad though. Here are four tips to avoid the dark side of praise and stay in the light.

  • Recognize effort. Rather than giving praise that involves some global, non-descript label (“You are such a good girl”), recognize effort invested (“You really studied for that test”).
  • Show interest and recognize specifics. Don’t just praise the whole finished project (“Oh, that’s beautiful”). Instead, ask a few specific questions: like “How did you choose that color?” “Where did you come up with that idea?” Find out more about their project and their thoughts behind the project. Then, recognize some specific aspect of the finished project, like “I like the combination of colors you chose.” “You show creativity in the way that character solved his problem.”
  • Don’t rush in. Step back. When your children appear stuck, step back and wait. Don’t rush in to fix, correct, or help. Let them struggle to find their own solution. Then recognize their effort. Acknowledge the solution and a specific aspect of that solution that you find especially creative, unique, or interestingly.
  • Finally, reframe failure. I love the way the Robinsons respond to failure in “Meet the Robinsons.” (Click Here to watch) Failure was a celebration, an opportunity to learn. Celebrating failure as an opportunity to learn gives our children the freedom to put in effort, fail, learn, and continuing working toward a better solution…tying the first three points together.

 

Don’t go to the dark side…of praise.  With a little thought and effort, you can easily step into the light and enjoy the benefits of well-spoken encouragement and praise.