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!
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.
Temper tantrums are “teachable moments”
It is hard to imagine, in the midst of the chaos created by temper tantrums, that there is something good about them, but temper tantrums are importent steps in your child’s development. They represent the opportunity for the child to experience his or her strong feelings, although not positive ones, and if we do not jump to pacify them, s/he can experience his or her power to control those feelings and his or her body. So, give your child the time s/he needs to have this experience!