NurtureShock: To praise or not to praise?

In the first chapter of this book, the issue of praising is examined. The authors found that since the 1969 publication of The Psychology of Self Esteem, by Nathaniel Branden, legislators of all levels became fully committed to the idea and created methods and programs to increase self-esteem. Follow-up research connected self-esteem with everything from dependency on social welfare to teen pregnancy, and declared that these problems would be “cured” by increased self-esteem. No wonder parents started to praise their children “early and often.”

But what happens to those children when they first experience failure or difficulty? Studying this question brought a whole new understanding to the role of praise. To summarize the summary of the NurtureShock authors: Not all praise is the same.

  • Praise that is general, like “you are smart, Kiddo!” are not perceived as sincere, and make the child think he/she can rely on his/her innate talent, without making any effort. The requirement for effort actually confirms to them they are not really smart.
  • Praise which is specific is valuable: The child will work hard to get more such praise.
  • Teach children that results come from effort, and that “smartness” is like a muscle that needs to be exercised.
  • Too much praise distorts motivation. Children who were overpraised lose sight of the intrinsic joy in learning. They become risk-takers and lack autonomy. They do not persist at their tasks, and at college level they tend to drop out of classes rather than get a mediocre grade.
  • Highly praising parents feel they are supportive of their child. The child, on the other hand, senses the parents’ high expectations.
  • Overly praised children do work hard–but are ready to tear down others. It is the impression of being smart that moves them.
  • Praise is perceived by children as a sign of failure (someone feels I need a boost, so something is wrong with me) but criticizing is perceived as a sign the teacher (or parent) thinks I am smart (he/she feels I can deal with it)!

The authors are specific about praise: The observations are about children ages 7 years and over. It is believed that younger children take praise at face value. I am not sure how much I agree with that. I wish there were more studies to support this point.

Nevertheless, NurtureShock gives a lot for us parents to think about!

Parenting: nurture or nature?

A while ago, I mentioned the book Nurtureshock, by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman. This book has so many points to ponder, I would like to share some of them with you over my next few blog entries.
The introduction starts with expressing the feeling that all parenting books feel like “paint by number” recipes: If this, do that, and if that, do this. Do you share this experience? Do you feel that parenting authorities are forcing things on you that are not “intuitive” to you? Did you get to the point of tossing all the books aside, and deciding you are better off just doing what “feels natural” to you?
Nurtureshock says that the “throw out all the books” phase is actually a comforting point in the lives of parents. But there is a  problem: When facts are checked, even a simple strategy of boosting the child’s self image, like telling him/her how smart he/she is, turns out to backfire. Children that were “instinctively nurtured” with such compliments were found, over time, to have less confidence and not perform to the level they potentially could have, as compared with children who did not get such messages.
So, what is a parent to do? On one hand, neuroscientists have found a center in our brain that gives us the impulse to nurture; but on the other, how BEST to do that is left up to us. And we apparently don’t have the tools to make the right choices.
What the authors uncovered is that how we nurture is a mix of intelligent informed reactions, many of which are polluted by wishful thinking, moralistic biases, fads, personal history, and old unproven psychology.
This is very uncomfortable for parents to think about. Parents have reasons to be who they are, and they do have the right to reject any parenting guru that wants them  to “parent by numbers.” But common sense can be restored by carefully reviewing scientific observations of kids, setting aside ideologies. This can help parents regain their confidence and commitment to raise their children THEIR WAY.

parents need to be clear about their goals!

My friend Mike lanza wrote this in his web site Playborhood.com:
My Goal

I want my kids to play outside with other neighborhood kids every day.
I want them to create their own games and rules.
I want them to play big, complex games with large groups of kids, and simpler games one-on-one with a best friend.
I want them to decide for themselves what to play, where, and with whom.
I want them to settle their own disputes with their friends.
I want them to create their own private clubs with secret rules.
I want them to make lasting physical artifacts that show the world that this is their place.
I want them to laugh and run and think.
Every day.

That’s what I had. It’s my standard for a good childhood. It’s my goal for my kids.

What is your goal?

Parenting: no one-size fit all: alternatives

If you do not like “time out,” for whatever reason, you are right. You have other approaches you can choose, so you will be comfortable in your role as a parent. If “time out” feels OK for you, fits your personal temperament and your cultural context–that might be a good thing for you.

Parents who do not like “time out” explore the possibility of “time in”: They stop their child from whatever he/she was doing, tell them what’s wrong, and stay with him/her for the time of cooling down. For them, it is importent to stay connected with the child as the information (of what went wrong and what is expected) is being worked on.

Many discipline issues in very young children can be avoided by changing the environment: Often there are  too many toys around, or inappropriate expectations for the child to “clean up” (does he/she really know what that means? Remember, in his/her eyes, toys on the floor ARE in the right place…) Parents may express expectations that the child will sit patiently and wait; this needs to be tempered to the child’s developmental age. Considering just these few things can help a lot with elliminating unnecessary “meltdowns.”

Every choice that we make in child rearing has long-term consequences, but we cannot foresee them all. We can do our best, knowing it might not be seen the same way in 20 or 30 years; we can be forgiving to ourselves and others; and go through life with hope and faith.

Parenting: one-size-fit-all II

After years of seeing different fads, I came to the conclusion that there is no one right way to raise a child, and discipline is just one aspect of it. In the US, like in some other places, we are trying to move away from spanking and other physical punishments, which are common in traditional society around the world (and in the US). So what are the alternatives?

I would like to share with you my observations and my personal experience. I found that the parent needs to choose something that fits the child, but also something that fits the parent. I would never do anything that would make me uncomfortable, even if all the children’s books say I should.

It is not just about my comfort zone, because it is about the child, and not me. I might wish it would be easy, or that it would not hurt, or that it will all be lovie-dovie, but it isn’t. I need to choose what will teach my child, and will represent me–my thoughts, feelings, and values.

I have to choose a path I will be happy to defend 20 years from now, something that might not feel loving to my child right now, but when he/she will be a grown-up, he/she will say “thank you” for making this choice, for insisting, for setting the limit, for protecting me from myself, for showing me what it means to be strong.

There is a limit as to how other parents’ experience can help. If you do not know the person, his or her experience might not resonate with you. Whatever they suggest probably worked for them, but if it does not click with you–that does not make them wrong. It is just advice that does not fit you. Just keep looking, exploring; the right inspiration will manifest quickly enough.

Parenting is not one-size-fit-all

In the business of parenting, most of the advice is similar: It’s about staying calm, being consistent, not spanking or punishing, and how we need to replace it all with “time out.” Isn’t “time out” punishment? And–whose problem are we solving anyway? The parent’s? The child’s? I also questioned this: Is there really a “one size fits all” solution to the challenge of discipline? We are all mothers and we all love our children, but do we want to raise them to be the same person?

We all come from different cultures, with different stories, and we have different sensibilities and sensitivities.

How to choose the right kindergarten?

It is January, but parents are starting to worry about kindergarten: Which one is the one for my child? Is my child ready? Is s/he too young?  Does s/he need to know how to read? Write? Do mathematics? Is private school worth the money? Is public school good enough? Is the choice of kindergarten going to be a deciding factor in the rest of my child’s life?

Here are some points to think about:

*   Entering formal school is important, but you are still the most important piece of your child’s life. Keep the sense of being connected, allow for a comfortable flow of communication, and be sensitive to your child’s growing personality without imposing your own dreams on him or her. That will build a strong basis for your relationship with your child.
*   The personality of the teacher is more important than the methodology or philosophy of the school. Meet the teacher and ask yourself: Can this teacher love the kind of child my child is? Do not expect her to change him/her to the child you want him or her to be (more cooperative, less wild, more obedient, etc.). You want the teacher to love your child and be ready to work with him or her the way s/he is right now.
*   Some schools expect a 4-year-old to be able to read/write/know-the-numbers. If your child does not have these skills yet – s/he is not a failure. S/he is just not a good match for this school. Find a place where the teacher is ready to TEACH all that. You will find out that all your child needs is curiosity and eagerness to learn.
*   In general, when money is not plentiful, private schools are not a good investment. It is better to save this money for college. With a close eye on the child, a close relationship with teachers and administrastors, I have seen many children get a wonderful education in some of the more difficult neighborhoods.
*   Some competitive parents want their child to start school as early as possible. Being the youngest in the class is never an advantage. This child will have no shot at leadership opportunities in the class. It is better to wait another year and let him or her be the most mature (in addition to being the smartest…) so he or she can take adventage of her or his briliancy. Finishing college at 20 is not an advantage in the market, but not having girls your age all along can have a strong impact on a person… And yes, this kind of challenge is most common with boys.
*   Think about the friends your child will make in school: A neighborhood school might afford the possibility of walking or riding a bike to a friend’s home. Picking a school outside your neighborhood can make social life difficult later.

I know that, along with all the advice a parent will get, there is a sense of a big transition, and even anxiety. Make sure your anxiety is kept to a minimum, or your child will start to worry about the whole thing. Starting school is a celebration, not a focal point for worries. Make it one for your child!

Handling Temper Tantrums

Lately I’ve been studying the issues around young children’s temper tantrums: Why do they happen? What do they mean? What are the best practices for handling them? What are the pitfalls?
My adult daughter shared with me her memory of a temper tantrum from her childhood: She remembers wanting a stuffed animal in a department store, and me saying “no.” She remembers crying really hard; she remembers thinking how much she wants this bear, how she cannot be without it, and not understanding how I do not understand her.

She also said she remembers how I said “no,” and just stood there, calmly, waiting for her to be done.

And then she said the most remarkable thing. She said: “I think this was an important experience for me. I learned how to be strong. I think if you would have just bought me the bear, I would have felt that every wish of mine needs to be met just because I cry.”

What a lesson!

Handle a 2- to 3-Year-Old’s Temper Tantrum

Temper tantrums are normal

In my conversations with parents, they all seem to worry that something is wrong with their child if s/he experiences a “meltdown.” Well, an adult acting out a temper tantrum is unusual, and an older child’s tantrum is also different from a young child’s.

But for young children, temper tantrums are the only way they can express their negative feelings fully. They do not know what these feelings are. They have no words to describe them, nor can they delay their expression. So, if you feel worries or anxiety around temper tantrums–rest assured that your child is all right, and you need to change your perspective.

How to handle yourself when your child is having a temper tantrum

Take care of yourself while your child is experiencing temper tantrums

It is very challenging, but possible: Center yourself; do not let negative thoughts about yourself enter your mind. And if they do, “talk back” to them.

Remind yourself that you are a good person and a good parent. That this is an important experience for your child, so you have to stay the course.
You can practice centering yourself before the temper tantrums occur. You can research the subject, learn it from your yoga practice, from friends, or from books. Or create a process works for you. Do whatever it takes not to be caught up in the drama.