October 23rd, 2015
For years now parents have understood the need to build strong self-esteem in their kids and one of the ways we do this is to tell them they’re clever when they achieve something, whether its walking unaided or tying a shoelace or reading a sentence. We still might be saying it to our teens who’ve figured out algebra or penned a good persuasive piece of writing.
Of course it’s a good idea to encourage our children but what if our words are having the opposite effect? What if calling them ‘clever’ actually discourages them from trying or stretching themselves?
Research, by Professor of Psychology at Stanford University, Carol Dweck, shows that focusing on a child’s intelligence or talent can be counter-productive and lead to the development of a mindset that actually prevents them from achieving. Studies have shown that when a child is praised for his intelligence he develops a ‘fixed’ mindset –he thinks that a person is given a fixed amount of talent and intelligence at birth, and whatever they do simply demonstrates the 'cleverness' that they possess. That child thinks that if she is ‘clever’ she shouldn’t have to work too hard at something. People with a 'fixed' mindset tend to avoid exploration and challenge. They take the easy option rather than running the risk that they will prove that they are not in fact ‘clever’.
People with a fixed mindset have no way of responding to mistakes or failures but tend to give up. My friend’s son is suffering from this way of thinking as he approaches his final year of schooling –he simply believes that he shouldn’t have to apply himself because he is ‘clever’. The result is he’s not doing as well as he could be.
In contrast others have a 'growth’ mindset, which means the belief that a person's natural capabilities and talents can be developed through application and effort. Good news, eh? The risk-taking and struggle that is inherent in all learning is therefore not regarded as frightening, and more real learning can take place. When faced with mistakes or failures the growth mindset people believe that they can overcome through perseverance. They shall conquer the world!
So how can we encourage our kids without developing a fixed mindset?
We need to change the way we use praise.
Praise effort, attitude, strategies and improvement
Parents can encourage a growth mindset by not calling their children clever and instead paying attention to the effort the child employs, the improvements they make and the attitude they bring to a task. “I noticed that when the first approach you tried with your science project didn’t work you tried another tactic. How’s it going?” “You kept on trying with these sums even though you didn’t find it easy. I call that persevering. Your efforts have paid off – five out of six are correct. I wonder if you can work out how to correct the sixth one.”
If self-esteem is connected to results it becomes too fragile. Instead of focusing on results we can notice and comment on effective strategies our children use such as when they look up a spelling word in the dictionary or go back over notes before a test or by keeping an organised folder. Paying lots of attention to grades (and sporting outcomes) can make the child feel that our approval is dependent on them always getting good results which might feel unattainable. When your daughter comes home from a netball match don’t let your first question be ‘did you win?’, but ‘Did you enjoy the game? Did you play your best? Did you listen to the coach? Did her tips about shooting work? Were you able to set up some goals? How did the team play together?
When we say “you’re a brilliant artist”, they know they’re not ‘brilliant’; they think of someone who can draw better than them and discount our praise. It also creates pressure to always be the ‘brilliant artist’.
This was true for me growing up – I knew that I would only retain my father’s interest while I continued to perform well academically. It made it feel as if his love for me was conditional.
Describe the positive behaviours you see
- focus on the positives. “You’ve remembered to bring your homework diary home.” “You got on your bike again even though you fell off just now.”
Notice and mention the tiny steps in the right direction
- be specific and detailed. It shows that the parent is paying attention, it is accurate, relevant and persuasive as well as non-evaluative. “You’re sitting at the table at the right time and you’ve got all your books out. You look like you’re
getting ready to start your homework.”
Use praise focused on the individual
Use non-comparative praise – in order to avoid children becoming conceited or thinking they’re better than others. It is also necessary so that kids know we appreciate them just for themselves, not compared to anyone else. This reduces the unhealthy sort of competition.
“Your good result in your spelling test reflects the hard work that you put into it. This is the best you’ve done so far” not “You did better than anyone else.”
Parents can also encourage and model a healthy attitude to mistakes –accepting that as part of being human and looking for learning each time.
October 04th, 2015
There is the risk, especially with babies, that women can take over parenting and assume (or have thrust upon them) an ‘expert’ role which Dads can go along with play visual games and are verbal with babies and young children while dads are more physical and tactile. There’s much that is good about both styles and children benefit from both. Rough and tumble play by dads predicts better self control abilities in their children. (Source: Gottman institute)
Encourage independence and risk taking
Dads encourage kids to climb higher, go to the store on their own, go down the highest slides etc while mums may have to stifle the urge to keep their babies safe. Encouraging self-reliance and reasonable risk taking in children encourages them to discover what they are capable of and to grow in confidence. If children become fearful they will not grow and will not acquire essential life skills and coping strategies for dealing with the world.
Allow kids to experience uncomfortable feelings
When dads recognise their children’s struggles and allow them to experience some frustration and learning through failure they are helping children grow through experience. When we protect our children from their feelings of discomfort or frustration we can prevent valuable learning in the same way as if we prevent them from making discoveries physically. Although we shouldn’t shield our children from uncomfortable feelings we can help them identify them and manage them by acknowledging what’s going on. Eg I can see you’re feeling frustrated with those wretched shoe laces –but I like the way you’re persevering. You don’t give up easily do you?
in some relief. But this is to miss out on a great resource and ‘expertise’ that men bring to parenting. Men have a unique style to their parenting that women tend not to have and children who don’t experience this are missing out.
Some dad facts:
Where fathers are not present in their children’s lives the kids really benefit from being involved with ‘uncle’ figures.
What are the differences in style?
When considering the question what do mums and dads contribute to the role of parent ask yourself what would each do/say when watching a little boy climb up a climbing frame or tree?
Dads typically say “go on, you can do it. Well done, reach for it.”
Whereas Mums might say “Be careful, watch where you put your feet, take your time.”
Fathers tend to foster independence and encourage adventure. Mothers are generally caretakers and teachers and are often more cautious.
This is what the kids think:
Mummies are smaller and Daddies are bigger.
Dads normally go out to work and you come out of mummy’s tummy.
Dads have fun and mums don’t.
Mums listen and Dads don’t…it’s the same for all my mates.
(Source: Netmums March 09)
While we don’t want to minimise the importance of the nurturing, the encouraging and the listening that mums are traditionally good at let’s celebrate what dads do well:
To begin with Dads do play with kids, while Mums sometimes don’t give it as much priority as they do to the laundry, the cooking, the chauffeuring and the supervising of homework and music practice etc. When Roald Dahl died his children wrote about their memories of him and predictably they valued the story telling and creating he encouraged in them. My guess is when we die our children will remember the play times and the conversations with us rather than the fact that we always ensured they had clean and matching socks.
Dads tend to be more physical than mums in the way they play. Mums generally
Don’t judge or compare self with other parents
Dads are less prone to perfectionism than women in the parenting field and less apt to compare and judge their own or others’ parenting efforts. A great combination in a dad is that willingness to trust his instincts with an openness to new ideas.
Being a good role model
Dads are needed as good role models for their sons, especially in areas like school work, responsibility, handling physicality and aggression, how to treat women, how to handle and express emotions and seeking support when they need it. Men can show their boys how to be determined without taking competition to harmful levels. Dads are also important models for their daughters as they show them how to relate to the opposite sex. How a father treats his daughter sets up expectations for what she’ll look for in adult relationships with men. Involvement in his daughter’s life profoundly affects her self-esteem.
If you want to hone your fathering skills why not come to our workshop How to be an even better dad on 14th October 2015 at 7.30pm? Click here for more details and to book. http://www.theparentpractice.com/courses-and-workshops
September 25th, 2015
My daughter has a t-shirt that reads “Summer, please don’t leave me”, which is exactly how I’m feeling now that the days are getting shorter and the skies are turning grey. Our natural tendency in autumn is to head indoors. Once inside, it’s easy to turn to the things that are easy to do. So, the iPad or the x-Box emerge and one-by-one each member of the family disappears into their own zone.
When you were ten years old and you woke up in the morning to see that the sky was grey what were the things that you loved to do? Were your first thoughts to call your friends to arrange a potentially muddy game of football; did you hope that you’d be able to go and see a movie; stay in your room to build a Meccano creation, or were you curled up reading a good book, or listening to music …? What activities gave you your best days when the weather was gross?
English Heritage has created a website and app (I know … we’re trying to go lo-tech here) with 50 things to do before you’re 11 and 3/4. Many of these are warm-weather activities but some of them can be adapted for a less than pleasant day. After all, as the Scandinavians say, ‘there’s no such thing as bad weather, just inappropriate clothing’. If your plan is to head outside, take a hint from English Heritage and try …
Head to www.geocaching.com and create an account for your family. You can also download the app for your phone - which makes it easy as you have a built-in GPS. To make it more challenging, encourage your children to use a compass. Caches are located all over the world. We have found them in Australia, Brazil, Canada, the US, and all over the UK. Caches can be all sorts of things from virtual caches to small plastic containers with knick knacks inside. It’s not only a fun exercise in navigation and treasure hunting, but because most caches are created by locals, it is also a great way to discover hidden gems of places that you might not have known about.
Create a Family Vision Board
Our friend Kelly Pietrangelli (Project Me for Busy Mums) is a huge advocate of brainstorming with kids about what kinds of things they’d like to be doing in future. All you need is some large pieces of poster board … and lots of questions. Kelly starts with things like “what will you be doing for fun in 5 years? What will your hobbies be?” Vision boards are a great way to set goals and by keeping them visible around the house those things you and your children include are more likely to happen.
I cannot tell you how many people I have met recently who have put down their phones, cleared the kitchen table, pulled out the felt-tips and started colouring … yes, as a family! One friend - a mother of 3 teenagers - told me that her daughter sat down with her one evening, then was joined by a couple of her daughter’s friends and the four of them sat, coloured and talked for a good two hours. Check out amazon.com … they have loads.
Tap into Pinterest
Pinterest can be a bit like Marmite. People either really love it, or feel totally overwhelmed by all the craftiness that it seems everyone else seems to possess. I’m somewhere in the middle and love to have a quick search of FAMILY CRAFTS to come up with some fun ideas. Why not …
What we have learned in all our years of working with families is that children don’t want things as much as time with their parents. Children want to feel connected. Take some time this autumn to find some new hobbies. You don’t have to spend a lot of money. You just need to carve out time. Make your weekends be times when you’re not racing from one activity to the next. These are the days when you can create family memories and add to your list of fun family stories.
September 20th, 2015
Responsibility can seem like a daunting word. If we think about all the things we are responsible for, it can be frightening and overwhelming. We are responsible for ourselves, our responses, our relationships, our mistakes, our education and careers, our health and well-being … and while our children are growing up, we are responsible for all those things for them as well. But our goal is to teach them to be responsible for themselves.
When parents ask us how they can encourage their children to be more responsible, here’s what we suggest:
Be your child’s emotion coach
Today we understand the value of raising emotionally intelligent children – children who are confident, resilient, empathetic, compassionate and authentic. The way to raise emotionally intelligent children is to be their emotion coach. That means that when your children are upset, angry, jealous, disappointed, afraid, feeling inadequate, left out or let down… that you acknowledge the feelings and support your child to find her own solutions. Accepting your children’s feelings doesn’t mean that you are agreeing with them or accepting all behaviours. If your child says “I HATE YOU. YOU’RE THE WORST MOTHER EVER” and you respond with “you’re mad that you have to go to Granny’s and you can’t go to your friend’s party” … it is not a confession or agreement. It is just allowing their feelings to be heard. And once the feeling is released you may go back to address the behaviour.
Often, we are quick to invalidate our children’s feelings because we want to fix things for them and make everything better. Rather than advising them and telling them what to do, it is better for them to allow them to come up with their own solutions.
Teaching children how to deal with uncomfortable feelings with words will teach them to be responsible for dealing with life’s knocks in a positive way. We can also coach them to deal with anger by taking vigorous exercise or with sadness by listening to music or with overwhelm by putting something in order and we can model how we deal with these feelings ourselves.
Use the mistakes process
Children will make mistakes. For children to learn, we need to be able to see mistakes and failure as an opportunity to learn. The mistakes process will leave you and your children with new learning and a strengthened connection. This needs to be done when everyone is calm … so take some cool down time beforehand to be able to handle the situation positively. You’ll need to start by acknowledging the feelings involved.
Set up for Success
At the heart of positive parenting is teaching our children what they can be responsible for – given their age and stage of development. Setting up for success means being a proactive and prepared parent. It means teaching your child to tie his shoes throughout the summer holidays rather than thinking he’ll be able to do it on the first day of school. It’s about giving some thought and training rather than ambushing your children at the last minute expecting that they’ll be happy and willing to do what is required. Talking through things ahead of time with your children – whether it’s your 4 year old’s first day of school or your teenager’s first secondary school party – is preparing them so they are ready for what could happen.
When children have chores to do, they start to see themselves as contributing to the family. Add on the descriptive praise they receive from you when they have done the chore and they develop the feeling of being trusted. That in turn builds their confidence and motivation to continue to help out!
Chores teach children valuable life skills. Whether your children are making their beds and tidying their rooms, or cooking, cleaning up, preparing a table for dinner, helping in the garden, or taking care of a pet, we know that children gain a stronger sense of pride and dignity from being a contributing member of the family.
Writer Joan Dideon said: “The willingness to accept responsibility for one's own life is the source from which self-respect springs.” We want to give our children the gift of self-respect. By using these four parenting tools, you will purposefully ensure that you are passing on that gift every day.
September 13th, 2015
As the children go back to school you may be thinking of all the areas associated with school where you end up battling with your kids. Often we're told to pick our battles but I say don't pick battles with your children. Battles are between enemies and result in a win/lose situation. If you win, your child loses. We often forget this when we talk about not letting our children ‘get away with things’ and not letting them win.
Parents do need to provide discipline for children because their frontal lobes are not yet fully developed (and won’t be until their 20s). So we have to lend them our higher brains with their greater capacity for rational thought and impulse control. We are not our children’s enemy –we are their teacher. The purpose of discipline is not to win, or to get revenge, but to teach. Effective discipline comes from influence over time rather than the exercise of power in the moment.
We need to make sure we avoid the terminology of battles even in our own minds because language shapes our experience and the more we talk or even think about battling with our kids the more that will happen. That’s how our brains work.
What makes you want to go into battle with your child? Is it when you’ve asked them nicely to do something several times and they ignore you? And then you calmly and reasonably give them a gentle warning that they won’t get their TV time or stories… and they ignore you. And then you shout… but they still ignore you. And then you take away the TV or story… and then they react. They act as if that came straight out of the blue and is the most unreasonable thing ever and you are the meanest mummy/daddy in the world.
Generally when people suggest picking your battles it means choosing which things you’re going to get into a lather about and ignoring the rest. At The Parent Practice we say don’t ignore behaviours that you’re not happy about and don’t battle over them. Don’t ignore but take small actions before the behaviour escalates too far and while you’re still calm enough to deal with it.
Take action sooner with take 2s –Get your child to do it again correctly. This works well for little things like saying please and thank you or speaking in a polite tone of voice or asking to get down from the table.
Here’s how you can teach rather than engaging in battles:
If something has gone wrong and you’re heading into battle mode:
Kids will get things wrong because they’re learning but the way we teach them how to behave will have long term ramifications for how they deal with disagreements in their lives. Instead of teaching them to get into battles don’t we want to teach them to try to understand, use words to negotiate and compromise?
For more on Positive discipline techniques see www.theparentpractice.com
September 07th, 2015
How are you feeling about the return to the school routine? Perhaps you have a littlie starting school for the very first time? Or a tween making that big transition to secondary school?
Many clients we speak to are breathing a huge sigh of relief as getting back to a regular routine and a bit of ME TIME is much needed, but there are others for whom the transition may not be so welcome.
Perhaps you are feeling anxious about the rushed mornings and the thought of getting everyone up and out of the house by 8.15am or earlier!
Perhaps you have a child who does not like change or transition and finds going to school hard.
It may not surprise you to hear that the key to a successful return to school is PREPARATION, PREPARATION, PREPARATION!
Take some time NOW to Set Up For Success with these top tips
This year make getting ready for school a team effort as much as possible.
Chat through what is needed for the first day back - ask the children questions to get their input and Descriptively Praise their answers. Ask THEM to write shopping or other lists and check items off. All these things help them not only take responsibility and develop competencies which boosts self-esteem..
Emotional preparation is just as important as getting kit together.
Build confidence by focusing on your children’s efforts, attitude and improvements – not results!
Although schools keep their main focus on results, we can provide an alternate view, putting the emphasis on the journey or process. Keep noticing their efforts WHENEVER your children display them describing in detail the ‘good’ stuff they do.
Praise them for qualities that they are showing in non-academic areas such as perseverance and they will likely transfer those attributes to school life.
For example: “I am impressed how you kept working on this juggling. It’s complicated and time-consuming but you persevered until you could do it.” Or “You made such an effort to keep up with everyone today, and you kept a smiley face and a happy voice which meant we all had a lovely day out together.”
Helping them cope with their feelings
There are many feelings associated with school – good ones, and not so good ones. And we need to know how our children feel – even when the feelings are ones that we’d rather protect them from, or don’t feel comfortable handling.
When we accept and validate uncomfortable feelings we reduce the need for children to ‘act out’ these feelings in ‘misbehaviour’ - such as being ‘mean’ to siblings or rude to parents or defiance. We help them learn how to identify and manage negative feelings appropriately.
For example: “I imagine you are totally exhausted by all the new people and places you have dealt with this week. It probably feels quite overwhelming.” Or “You might feel like you can’t possibly do one more thing for anyone this afternoon. You’ve been told what to do all day long, and now all you want to do is nothing.”
Remember, there is a clear distinction between acknowledging negative feelings and condoning negative behaviour. So, although it’s understandable a child might feel left out at school, it is NOT acceptable to hit a sibling.
Sometimes children’s excitement at starting school is tinged with the conflicting and confusing feeling of anxiety.
Sometimes feelings show up in butterflies in the tummy, headaches, eczema or nausea. It can help children to know that these feelings won’t last and there are solutions too, like breathing, visualisations or distraction. It helps to hear that other people have similar feelings – most children love hearing about your experiences at school.
Empathise with any reluctance to go to school. It is TOTALLY normal for there to be times when they don’t want to go. Knowing that feeling is understood and accepted makes it easier to keep going.
For example: “I bet you wish you could stay at home today – it’s such a huge change to being on holiday. You probably wish we were still on the beach.”
“You might be wishing you didn’t have to change schools. You feel sad about leaving your friends and teachers. Maybe you are worried you won’t know anyone and you won’t make friends quickly. You might miss your old school for a while. Maybe a part of you is also looking forward to making new friends and having more activities. It can be confusing when you feel two different feelings at the same time.”
Continued reluctance may mean there is something else going on which merits further investigation.
And three last tips!
First, remember how tiring school is for children of all ages. It’s not unusual for children to display regressive behaviour – sucking thumbs, using baby voices, or disrupted sleep and rudeness because they are so exhausted by their efforts to be ‘good’ at school. Plan time for them to rest each afternoon and at the weekend – avoid lots of playdates and activities until things settle down.
Secondly, our children follow where we lead. When we enthuse, we create enthusiasm. When we look forward to new challenges, they do too. And when we show an appetite for learning, they pick this up. So, be positive about school, and it will help give them a very good start.
And finally, “rushing is the enemy of love”. I know it sounds obvious but just getting up 20 minutes earlier will enable you to get on top of things and prevent overwhelm and stress. When we start the day off feeling in charge we will feel more confident about using all our skills and get results!
Follow these tips and let us know the results and any other great tips for helping your children go back to school?
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Elaine and Melissa