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.
June 18th, 2015
Father’s day in the UK is on the 21st June. I know some people are a bit bah humbug about these ‘Hallmark’ days and regret the commercialisation of such occasions but I think we should seize the opportunity to celebrate fathers.
There is the risk, especially with newborns, that women can take over parenting and assume (or have thrust upon them) an ‘expert’ role which Dads can go along with 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 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 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?
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.
Mums, while encouraging your children to show their love for their dads, let your partners know what you appreciate about them this father’s day.
January 14th, 2015
by Guest blogger Amy Williams
It’s no secret that as long as popular social media sites have existed, the virtual distance between computer screens has acted as a veil behind which many bullies feel safer lashing out in disrespectful or harmful ways.
Our children are up against unfavorable odds when it comes to cyberbullying and educating them on how to handle it is their best line of defence.
Cyberbullying is only becoming a bigger problem as the idea of anonymity online becomes increasingly popular. Sites like ask.fm, which allows questions from strangers, or apps like whisper, which allows anonymous conversations through picture messages, are making it easier for bullies to get away with leaving harmful comments.
In addition to teaching them how to keep a swivel in their neck when they walk down a dark street, hide their personal belongings when in public, and the age-old ‘never talk to strangers,’ it is now essential to show them some digital ropes. So don’t hide your head in the sand as a technically challenged, antiquated thinking adult but instead open your eyes to the many sordid actions your child may be challenged with on a daily basis.
Break the Barrier
With statistics showing approximately 25% of young people being bullied on the internet, 65% witnessing cyberbullying, and a whopping 90% admitting that they would never tell their parents when cyberbullying occurs, it is now or never to break this barrier.
If your child is still young enough to be shown some savvy digital moves then you are in luck. If you cover some ground rules when handing over an expensive, powerful device such as a smartphone or tablet chances are they will have a healthier transition.
However, if you are raising a tween or teen you may have to implement a whole new set of requirements for them to follow to keep their device. This can be met with extreme adversity but through the help of your partner and/or a professional such as a local cyber-police person or talk therapist hopefully your child will comply. (See The Parent Practice’s useful publications on ensuring cooperation with teens through good communication. http://www.theparentpractice.com/shop/publications )
If not, tough love may have to be put into place until they are willing to comply (over 27% of parents take their child’s device away until they can prove better digital practices).
Do Your Research
There are many websites that offer their take on how to prevent cyberbullying.
Most suggest fear based remedies that can end up being counterproductive as this tactic may make your child hyper vigilant and paranoid. Stick to sites that teach a more intellectual approach toward the many aspects of your child’s digital as well as physical world.
Offering them the opportunity to look through well taught eyes rather than panic at every situation they encounter will, in the long run, be the best gift you can give them. A fearful child will inevitably grow up to become a fearful adult and living a life of fear can be fraught with all sorts of unwanted scenarios including constant illness, misinformation, anger, victimization, difficult relationships and a constant challenge within career advancement.
The Tease Effect
Outside of computer communication, teasing can be witnessed as an underlying passive/aggressive tactic toward bullying or being bullied.
As it may begin somewhat innocently, when children tease one another their back and forth banter can quickly escalate into an ugly scenario. It is a way that children explore their ability to see how far their controlling tactics can be utilized.
When in the presence of an adult it can rapidly be quelled with some talk lessons on the damage or potential damage it carries. However, when it is transferred to a digital platform teasing remains beyond an adult’s supervision until it is too late.
A Scary Manifestation
Through what is referred to as the ‘Disinhibition Effect’ bullying can easily manifest on the web a lot faster and harsher than in person. It is described by researchers at the Department of Psychology, Rider University, Lawrenceville, New Jersey in an article titled, ‘The online disinhibition effect’ as, “While online, some people self-disclose or act out more frequently or intensely than they would in person.”
This article explores six factors that interact with one another in creating this effect: dissociative anonymity, invisibility, asynchronicity [being unaccountable], solipsistic introjection [regarding only one self], dissociative imagination [separating from reality], and minimisation of authority.”
It Won’t Go Away
Your child may seem well adjusted to school, friends, clubs, sports and so on for as they grow older face-to-face bullying lessens substantially. However, a study by the University of California - Riverside Graduate School of Education which was published in the journal, School Psychology Quarterly titled ‘Examination of the Change in Latent Statuses in Bullying Behaviors Across Time,’ researchers found that as students age they are verbally and physically bullied less, but cyberbullied more.
School Based Intervention
The University of California study recommended some school-based interventions as published by Science Daily. Here are a few to consider:
The researchers go on to warn that school as well as parental intervention for bullying should address each individual victim and perpetrator experience rather than attempt a wide curve education as a ‘one size fits all’ approach.
Whether it is utilising tracking software to determine the severity of cyberbullying your child may be involved in, talk therapy, community and/or school involvement, using any means necessary can stop this destructive cycle.
Cyberbullying in the U.K.
Anywhere where internet use is a significant aspect of daily social interaction, cyberbullying will be an issue.
Fortunately, resources exist in the UK for anyone struggling to handle cyberbullying cases. From hotlines dedicated to handling these and similar issues, to laws protecting victims, this is a problem about which government officials are aware, and have adapted to handle.
Of course, all of the above, non-country specific advice is applicable too. Awareness is one of the most important steps towards dealing with online threats. Keeping that in mind alongside available laws and apps will give you or your child the power you need to handle online bullies.
For more information on cyberbullying and how it affects those targeted by it, check out the infographic below.
Amy Williams is a freelance writer based in Southern California. As a mother of two, helping parents understand their teens is something she is very passionate about. You can follow her on Twitter.
September 04th, 2014
I recently listened to Alfie Kohn being interviewed on the Great Parenting Show. He commented that homework is akin to children being asked to do a second shift after a full day at school and that “no research has found any benefit for primary school children” which got me thinking again about this key topic. Homework can, for many families, be the single most stressful issue at home. Few children like it and not many of us parents enjoy homework either.
Is it right that children who have already been at school for up to 8 hours take on a second night shift to do more essays, test papers or worksheets? Does homework improve learning? Or help them gain study skills? Does it teach them responsibility or self-discipline ?
I do believe it’s important to question the value of homework rather than just accept it; that we talk to other parents to compare experiences, and share our concerns with the schools. However, in the meantime, if your children are in conventional education and need to cope with the here and now, here are our thoughts on to make homework easier and less stressful and less likely to extinguish a love of learning.
(1) Don’t make homework be the first thing you mention when you see them after school– give them a chance to mention it first and take responsibility for it.
They may remember and mention it themselves, which is a great opportunity for Descriptive Praise, or they may not. Rather than believe the worst (they’ve forgotten it, they don’t take this seriously, they’ll never achieve anything in life unless I make sure it gets done….) instead, take a breath and consider why they may not have mentioned it. Chances are they’re used to you taking responsibility for it, or they’d simply rather tell you about something else about their day first. Or, of course, they’re not looking forward to it…
If you need to mention homework, try a gentle reminder (“Do you think we’ll get some time to play that game after homework?” or verbalise their reluctance (“Guess the last thing you want to think about right now after a busy day is your homework….”)
(2) Rather than impose the homework schedule that you believe is best, involve them in creating it.
Sit together and discuss the where’s and when’s and how’s –you will help set the parameters but make sure you get input from them.
(3) During homework find many things to descriptively praise
Focus on attitudes, focus and improvements rather than results. If they do something well relate it back to strategies or effort employed –don’t say it’s because they’re clever.
“You’re sitting still and really concentrating.” “I like the way you’re using your ruler to make sure that line is straight.” “All that tables’ work you’ve done is paying off –it looks like you’re finding these sums easier now.”
(4) When homework is complete, first find several things to descriptively praise and then encourage them to look through their work and find improvements.
Don’t point out errors– this is de-motivating and it doesn’t help them get into the habit of checking their own work and spotting improvements. This way they get used to the idea that mistakes will happen, but they can identify them, put them right and move on.
“You’ve managed to get lots of capital letters and full stops in here. They make your sentences easy to understand. Can you find any places where a full stop or capital letter would make it even clearer?” “You’ve been working hard on your spelling, and it shows in this piece of work. Are there any words you’re unsure about and would like to check?”
(5) Discuss their homework with them in a positive way– not is it finished or where have you put it, but ask their opinion about the content, share ideas and thoughts.
This is particularly true for reading. Of course, repeated practice helps children become proficient readers. But reading for enjoyment’s sake can be one of the first casualties of homework. Once a child has to read a certain amount, or read for a set amount of time, it becomes a chore and the love is lost.
“The best way to make students hate reading is to make them prove to you that they have read.” Alfie Kohn in ‘The Homework Myth’
(6) When they moan and complain about homework, listen.
When we listen to their complaints we may worry that we are agreeing with them. We worry that validating the negative things they say will encourage negativity. None of this is true.
“I hate this homework, why do I have to do it?” If you say “I hate it too, and I don’t understand why they keep giving it” –this is agreeing – as opposed to “It’s tough having to sit down and do more maths, when all you probably want to do is curl up, or run outside, …” This is empathising.
(7) Go out – and take school learning into other areas, and make it fun!
We can visit museums, galleries, exhibitions, theatres, as well as watch films and TV programmes about the topics they’re studying. Or simply go for a walk and talk or let them go out in the dark to see the stars. Or let the children take the lead on how to pursue an idea as they do in Finland, a country at the forefront of academic excellence and one that eschews the idea of homework.
(8) Stay in – and make science and maths real!
It’s not as hard as it might seem – watch a bath run and see how things sink and float, or how much water is displaced, or ripples move; make a cake, weigh ingredients and divide into slices, or make salad dressing and see how the elements mix together or not. Try http://www.sciencekids.co.nz/experiments.html
(9) Model an interest in learning –enthuse!
Each and every time we sit down to read a book for fun, or pick up a dictionary or search the web to research something, or visit a museum or art gallery or go to a talk or do some form of training we set our children a great example that learning takes place throughout our lives and that we enjoy ideas.
Help us to promote a debate around the value of homework for primary school children.
Do you agree with the amount of homework your children get? What do you hope your children will gain from doing homework ?
Hope everyone settles back into their new terms well and let us know your thoughts on homework.
Melissa and Elaine
August 20th, 2014
Are you ready emotionally?
The tragic news last week of the death of one of the world’s most beloved actors and comics, Robin Williams, has left many of us reeling and wondering why people take their own lives. His battle with drink and drugs and the ‘black dog’ of depression is well documented and sadly is not as uncommon as we may believe.
Another tragic case recently, nearer to our practice in SW London concerned a young mother who, also suffering from depression, took not her own life but the lives of her three children. Mental illness can affect us all even without such catastrophic and well broadcast outcomes. A recent report from our local hospital - St George’s in Wandsworth - highlighted that many new mothers are affected by depression post birth.
If you are an expectant parent, I am certain you will have prepared for the physical aspects of having a baby, done the ante-natal classes, prepared your birth plan, maybe even packed your hospital bag; you’ve bought the cot, the pram, the clothes etc, etc and you’ve probably being nurturing your body during your pregnancy. Hopefully your medical advisers have spoken to you about post-partum depression.
But are you prepared emotionally for the transition to parenthood?
Have you thought about how it will affect you and your relationships with your partner, your parents, your friends? Do you know what to expect of the first few months? How will you cope with all the (well-meaning but possibly conflicting) advice? How will you take care of your own mental health to ensure that your baby gets the best possible start in life?
Every year approximately 720,000 babies are born in the UK. Having a baby is an opportunity for a new beginning – new relationships are built, new goals are set and new dreams are created. However, as well as the excitement that comes with becoming a family the transition to parenthood also brings with it stresses for the couple which can impact on the infant. Research shows that after the birth of a child many couples experience a drop in relationship quality which can lead to compromised parenting and decreased quality in parent-infant interaction. (Source: The Gottman Institute)
Years of research show that a strong emotional life between the parents is the best foundation for a baby’s development
As you move from a couple to a family be aware of some of the changes you can expect. Being aware is being prepared and ensures you are realistic about what changes are afoot.
• Both parents’ love for the new baby can form a very strong bond between them as they take on new responsibility for another life. A couple may act more as a team than ever before; becoming more flexible, learning to adapt, to be creative. You will reassess your values and goals and get in touch with your fun, playful side.
• Babies can teach adults to wonder and marvel at simple things, to experience the joy of discovery. Children are great teachers and we learn a lot about ourselves through interacting with them.
• Research shows that both men and women (about 67%) experience a decline in relationship satisfaction after the first baby is born and it continues to decline after the birth of the second child (which adds to the complexity of family dynamics and places additional demands on resources). There is also often a change in relationship with your own parents and with friends with or without children.
• Sleep deprivation can lead to depression (one study shows even when healthy volunteers were deprived of sleep for one month they became depressed) so get as much support as you can and don’t be a super Mum! Naps are more important than housework.
• Sex/intimacy declines – be patient. Developing a culture of appreciation for each other will help greatly –that means telling each other regularly what you appreciate about each other. Develop a daily practice around this or it won’t happen. My partner and I kept a little book on our bedside table and we wrote one thing in it each evening that we appreciated about each other. It created a lovely atmosphere of trust and made us both feel more confident in our handling of our new daughter.
• Fathers sometimes withdraw if the mother or the women in the mother’s circle, in an attempt to be supportive to her, inadvertently make him feel not needed. He may also feel replaced in her affections as she bonds with the new baby. This needs to be aired. Fathers have a very special role to play with newborns and are just as capable of caring from them as mums. (More on this in subsequent blogs)
• Reduced emotional availability-conversation/communication declines with tiredness. Awareness of this possibility allows you to make communicating a priority.
• Philosophical/psychological changes-shift in roles, relationship roles may become more traditional than previously, which can be challenging for both parents. If you’ve been a working parent in a challenging job and now you’re at home on leave or you’ve made the decision to be a stay at home parent you may experience a drop in status that is challenging. Reframe these assumptions by thinking about how important, challenging and rewarding your role as a parent is. Nurturing a small human being is a critically important job that goes way beyond the physical aspects of her care.
Ensure you are emotionally prepared for your baby.
Had you thought about how having a baby would affect your relationship with your partner? Do let us know what you do to nurture your couple relationship.
If you found these ideas interesting please share them with friends and family and subscribe to our newsletter. Click here to sign up
PS Watch out for the follow up blogs on how to build a strong emotional foundation with your partner and reduce conflict between partners and how to communicate and bond with your baby.
Elaine and Melissa
August 13th, 2014
Do you worry about the impact of the digital world on your kids? Do you despair about smart phones at the dinner table, late night texting and use of chat rooms, interrupted sleep patterns and children unable to stop gaming?
“I’ll stop in a minute – I just need to finish this level.”
Did you know that latest research tells us that by the age of seven, the average British child born today will have spent an entire year of his or her life in front of a screen?
Do you find yourself checking your emails, Face book and text messages every 10 minutes?
I had a really harsh wake-up call recently after reading Frances Booth’s ‘Distraction Trap’ book. I was inspired to get the whole family to do the ‘How digitally distracted are you?’ test. The results were not as I expected and it was truly alarming to discover that THE most digitally distracted person in the house was ME! I have been finding over the years that I fallen into the distraction trap and was blissfully unaware of the impact it was having on all the family. The digital world is here to stay and at The Parent Practice we are fully embracing it as we prepare for the launch of our on-line course. The digital world is exciting and powerful and the opportunities it presents for children and adults (and businesses) is immense.
I am starting to change my mindset around this however and becoming more aware of the impact of gadgets on our family life. The other day a client recounted a wonderful story about when she took her son to his swimming class last week, after the session he came over to her and in a loud angry voice said:
“You weren’t watching me!” Mum, immediately defended herself and explained:
“Oh, I was watching you - you were wonderful and did an amazing dive.”
“But every time I looked up, I could see you on your phone texting or reading email messages!”
Thank goodness this boy was emotionally intelligent enough to explain how he felt as if he had not been able to do this, I can guarantee his emotions and feelings would have come out as negative, demanding behaviour. He was trying to say he did not feel important or valued and that special time when Mum could have been watching him was sabotaged by the digital distraction.
What can you do?
Be the change you want to see.
For many of us using our electrical devices is a must. They keep us organised and allow us to keep in touch and entertained. We rely on them and enjoy them, yet often we berate our children for doing exactly what we are doing ourselves! Hypocritical or what?
1. Look at your own habits - ask yourself why you do what you do and when? If you are constantly checking your messages, outside of work, is this more important than being with your family at this time?
2. Ask yourself what you fear missing out on. If you don’t keep checking your phone there is a real and tangible fear that we will miss something very important or worthwhile, but maybe what we are missing out on is being present with our children. I recall when my son was a baby (he is now 18 years old) the mobile phone market was still in its introductory phase and when I was late picking him up from the child minder due to train delays, unable to connect with her, the world did not end. We survived.
3. Modelling is 80% of parenting - children absorb all the mannerisms and habits and language we use. I know this and I also know I have some bad habits, so for many, including me, this is uncomfortable reading. Just by being more aware of how we are using devices and gadgets will raise our levels of consciousness.
4. Be more in the present - and be aware of the environment around you
5. Have gadget free zones – ensure as a family you sit down and agree gadget-free zones and times and how about a gadget-free day or weekend? We recommend no one in the family has their phones in the bedroom. Or does the mere thought of that send you spinning?
6. Quick tip –when at your computer disable the email pop-up functionality so that you can focus on one thing at once. This has been found to increase productivity hugely.
7. Reframe device-free time – When you’re waiting for anything don’t just reach for your handset –you don’t need to look busy and connected for the strangers who may observe you. Think of this as creative thinking or planning time rather than ‘wasted’ time.
PS: When are you going to plan your digital downtime TODAY?
If you are interested in exploring this topic further see our publication ‘Parenting in a digital world’, packed full of ideas and skills you can implement immediately. If you found these ideas useful please share them with friends and family and for more parenting insights sign up for our newsletter.
Happy parenting! Elaine and Melissa
May 09th, 2014
This week I had two different experiences of the use of praise. I heard a psychologist on the radio talking about how it was important to use adjectives rather than verbs when praising children. He said when we use adjectives as in “You are helpful”, rather than “you are helping” this enables children to see themselves as helpful; being helpful becomes part of their identity.
He also suggested that when describing behaviour that we don’t like, negative behaviours, it’s better to use words that distance the action from the child, such as “that was a silly thing to do”. This makes sense at one level. We don’t want our children to see themselves as silly or bad or wrong and they will do that if they hear those labels applied to them. When they think of themselves in those terms it’s not surprising if we get silly, bad or wrong behaviour. We do want our children to take on good qualities as part of their identity, to build strong self-esteem and because a child who sees himself as helpful is likely to behave in a helpful manner.
But there are two problems with this analysis.
The first is that when young children, generally under the age of eight, hear negative labels like naughty, bad or wrong even if they’re carefully being applied by a well-meaning adult to theirbehaviour rather than to them, eg that was naughty, the child often applies it to himself. This is an egocentric stage of his development when everything applies to him. It’s really better to be very wary of using negative labels of any kind around children including ones like shy, disorganised and bossy which we might not think are so terrible. We run the risk of pigeon-holing our children and cutting off possibilities for them to be a different way.
The second problem is that this kind of acknowledgment on its own suffers from lack of credibility. Our children need evidenced-based praise! I was working with a group of 9 and 10 year olds this week who, when told they were brave or caring or kind immediately denied it! They rejected this form of praise and would not believe it. It was intriguing how uncomfortable the children felt. This often happens as kids get older. A child may hear this kind of praise and doubt it because he is not always a helpful person and it may create pressure for him to be always helpful, which he knows he can’t do. He will know others who are more helpful than he is and discount the well-intentioned words. This is all the more true for a child who has developed a negative identity over time. A child who has grown up hearing a lot of criticism will find it even harder to believe positive words when they come his way.
So what can adults do? It is more believable and less pressurising if, when you’re praising, you also use verbs “you’re taking your plate over to the dishwasher –you’re helping” to point out what the child is doing that is helpful. Notice and mention what the child is doing right. That way the evidence is before him and he can’t deny it. It is more likely to be believed and taken in at the level of identity. He can see that he can be a helpful person. We call this descriptive praise but it describes the actions of the child and it is an evidenced-based approach which is really effective because it is credible.
February 18th, 2014
Parents often comment on the difficulty of managing multiple children and how everyone always clamours for mum’s attention.
Attention is always a good place to start when thinking about being an effective parent. Rule No. 1 is that children are hardwired to seek our attention. It ensured their survival when we all lived in caves. When everyone is striving to get our attention it is helpful to replace the thoughts ‘Why are they so demanding’, ‘Can’t they see I am overwhelmed’, ‘How do they expect me to do everything at once’………..with the thought ‘of course they want my attention – they’re hardwired for this’. It doesn’t immediately turn the moment into sweetness and light, but it does make you feel a bit more empathetic towards them….and realize they are not doing this because they are thoughtless and mean.
Here are a few tips to help smooth the way:
Ensure you notice and comment on good behaviour significantly more than bad. All too often we say nothing when they are behaving well and only pay attention when they are starting to misbehave. From a kid’s perspective any attention is better than none – so they will take the bad route if they have to.
Try to carve out some individual time for each child. It may only be 30 mins once a week, but in those 30 minutes let the child lead the activity. It might be a dolls’ tea party with your five year old daughter or a game of hide and seek with your eight year old son. The point is they will feel valued and special by having this time – and it is about their agenda – so no pretending it is special time with mum whilst they practice their times tables!
Every so often organise individual ‘daddy dates’. Perhaps a visit to Pizza Express, a trip to the Science Museum but it could also be as simple as a walk in the park. Diarise it in advance and mention it in the run up to the event. It will make the child feel you are really focused on them.
Turn your phone off over meal times so you are not continually distracted and can have a proper conversation. It is also excellent modeling for the times we want them to turn off their digital devices.
If your children continually talk over each other, institute a talking stick. This was an ancient Native American tradition where only the person with the talking stick was allowed to speak and they were always allowed to finish before the talking stick was handed over to the next person. Start with a physical stick and then move to a metaphorical one once everyone understands the concept.
Try to promote collaboration between siblings – not competition. You want your children to feel there is plenty of attention to go round and they are not in a competition for it. In this vain try to avoid saying things like ‘I wish you could be more organized in the mornings like your sister’, ‘why can’t you eat as nicely as your brother’, ‘the first child to finish their dinner is the winner’.
Schedule quality family relaxation time at the weekend. Play a board game together, have a long lunch in which everyone gets involved in helping to prepare and clear up. Go and play catch in the playground. Ensure the weekend is not just a non-stop series of scheduled activities with children and parents all going in separate ways
In a recent survey by UNICEF UK the thing that children wanted most from their parents was not more toys, or more electrical gadgets…..it was simply more time with their parents.
Try the suggestions above. The funny thing you find about children, the more they feel confident of having your attention, the less they fear they are going to be criticised for asking for your attention……the less they clamour for it!
June 13th, 2013
Fathers’ day in the UK is in June. Rather than paying lipservice to it by buying a card for the kids to give Dad or (better) encouraging them to make one, it’s worth considering the role of fathers on this day. Mums, what do you value about your partner? Kids what do you love about Dad? Make sure that if you’re giving him a card you include some descriptive praise for him. In other words tell him specifically what you like to do with him or what you appreciate about him.
Is it the way he pretends to be an elephant and lets you climb on his back? Is it the pillow fights you have? Is it the funny voice he uses when reading you stories? Is it the way he helps you with your homework? Maybe you love his jokes or his crazy singing. Maybe you appreciate that he sits down with you quietly at bedtime and talks to you about your day and stuff you’re interested in. Maybe you love the way he supports you in trying new things like riding your bike or flying a kite or learning guitar. Maybe you just love your dad because he loves you.
There is a great deal of research and evidence that shows that when fathers (and father figures) are engaged in their children’s lives children do better academically and socially and have stronger self-esteem. (A longitudinal study done with 300 families by Stanford University beginning in the 1950s found that the best predictor of adult empathy was dads’ involvement in child rearing when the children were 5 years old and those men and women who had better social relationships in their 40s had experienced increased warmth from fathers as children. Nugent, JK. (1991) Cultural and Psychological Influences on the Father’s Role in Infant Development. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 53)
Children whose fathers are emotionally engaged show greater resilience, are able to focus on their studies better, persevere longer, take reasonable risks and are less aggressive. Girls who get positive attention from their fathers also are less at risk from eating disorders and self-harm and make better partner choices. In addition when dads are involved from an early point in a baby’s life the couple relationship benefits, if the couple should separate there is higher degree of father contact, fathers adopt healthier lifestyles, and mothers are less likely to smoke or suffer from depression. (Sources: The Fatherhood institute, Fatherhood: Parenting Programmes and Policy -A Critical Review of Best Practice, www.fatherhoodinstitute.org/?p=3744; the Gottman institute)
So what can mums do to facilitate fathers’ engagement with kids?
It’s not unusual for fathers to withdraw when a new baby arrives. Mums need a lot of emotional support which is typically provided by women who are mothers and dad can feel pushed out. He may feel inexpert as mum spends more time with the new infant (sometimes the women may even laugh at dad’s incompetence at changing nappies, feeding, bathing) so he does what he knows how to do and spends more time at work. He may also feel a strong urge to provide for his new family. In fact studies show dads are just as competent as mums in knowing how to respond to a crying baby (Ross Parke: fathers held and rocked infants more than mums and equalled them in talking, kissing and exploring. Throwaway Dads: The myths and Barriers That Keep Men From Being The Fathers They Want To Be. 1999 Houghton Mifflin).
From the time they are babies right through to adulthood women can encourage dads to take an active role with their kids by not criticising or laughing at their efforts but instead appreciating them for what they do. Recognise that in fact men have something unique to offer in parenting. Fathers tend to foster independence and encourage adventure. Dads tend to give children more freedom to explore. Mothers are generally caretakers and teachers and are often more cautious.
The differences are very marked in the way they each play with children. Mums tend to play visual games and are verbal with children while dads are more physical and tactile. (Gottman: when given a choice of play partners 2/3 of 2 ½ year olds prefer dad.) Dad’s style is more jazzed up and has heightened intensity followed by periods of calm in contrast to mum’s more even style. Provided dads know how to calm a child when over stimulated this style is very effective at helping children regulate emotions.
• Dads are more likely to be involved when they feel they’re doing a good job -acknowledge them for all their positive parenting input but especially for spending time with the children eg: Thanks for coming home early and minding the children while I went out. It was great to see you had fed everyone and read stories (even if the house is a tip when you get back).
• Schedule time for Dads to play with the kids. It is a strength for them. Get dads to encourage a healthy attitude to competition – have rules around rough play. When playing board games model a good attitude to losing.
• Encourage Dads to do practical things around the house such as cooking or hanging out the washing. It is good modelling for the children, stimulates their interest in those activities, includes Dad as part of the team and leaves more time for fun.
• Use descriptive praise to reward his efforts eg. I really appreciate it when you remember to put the rubbish out/empty the dishwasher, rather than pointing out the soggy bath mat on the floor. Can’t you ever wipe down a surface? doesn’t motivate anyone!
• Don’t expect perfection in parenting skills either for your partner or yourself. Increase his awareness of the skills by downloading parenting CDs onto his ipod or giving him small chapters of books to read; it’s less likely to feel like nagging or be overwhelming. Praise his willingness to read/listen. When we are criticised while parenting in the moment we can feel undermined and de-motivated.
• Take the children to visit Dad at work; get Dads to talk about their world and what they do when they go away from the family. Encourage Dads to phone at a regular time when away from the home to make them feel included and to let children know their Dad is thinking of them.
• Achieve a united front on matters of discipline by scheduling regular time together to discuss child-relates issues eg. A strategy for training children to put their own shoes on (rather than Mum trying to encourage self- reliance and Dad doing it for them) or what to do when they have a tantrum (it won’t work if Mum thinks the child should go to their room and Dad thinks it is better to listen and try to find the source of the problem). Focus on solutions more than the problem and keep track of progress by writing it down. Find a workable compromise for areas where you don’t have exactly the same values eg. how much screen time should children have?
• Use “I feel” statements rather than “You never, you always” when you have a difference of opinion. Eg “I feel my discipline is undermined if you say yes to something I’ve just said no to without checking with me. That makes me feel like the bad guy and it’s a bit lonely.”
• Remember less can be more when communicating with men. Sometimes emails or notes work better than direct speech.
May 10th, 2013
The recent announcement that one of England’s top performing grammar schools is to scrap its entrance exam amid fears the 11 plus is being undermined by an ‘endemic’ culture of tutoring has once again put the spotlight on the private tutoring industry and after the Sutton Trust released figures last year that showed 43% of children nationally had received private tuition, this decision may be celebrated by many parents.
Is it parental fear that if a good place at a selective school is not secured for their children they stand no chance in the overly competitive job market or is tutoring a way for parents to compensate for choosing state education and fearing they may not be doing the best for their children? Whatever the reason it is clear that tutoring is now so commonplace for many parents it is assumed to be a requirement of any child’s education. Of course tutoring is very widespread in the private sector as well where parents are already paying high fees. My 9 year old niece recently moved on from one of London’s top day schools to a gentle boarding school in the country. She was the only child in her year of 60 students at her old school not being tutored. This endemic has to stop.
I confess that today my teenage son, who has specific learning difficulties, is currently accessing a tutor to help him with basic numeracy and to re-sit a Maths GCSE. The one-to-one environment of learning some basic arithmetic skills that were overlooked early in his education is one he is thriving on. His self -esteem has increased as a result. He can ask unlimited questions without the fear of sounding silly and it is okay to make mistakes and learn from them. After watching as a family this week some reality TV in the form of The Apprentice and witnessing some sensationalist cringe-making TV in the form of a group of bright young things unable to do basic measurements and percentages, he appreciates and values the input he is having so that he has the essential life skills to cope with numbers! Clearly there is room for tutoring to help fill a specific gap where a child has missed out on some essential skills which are necessary pre-skills for the next level and which are difficult to address in the classroom.
This is very different from the tutoring that is done to coach children for 11 plus and other exams. And when tutoring is done so routinely that the majority of children in a year are receiving tutoring that is a very anxious environment in which to be (not) learning. The high pressure, high stakes culture that permeates schools and children’s lives, and so worries educationalists, often is as a result of anxious and pushy parents, the tiger mums and turbo charged Dads with very, very high expectations for their children. Let’s not rob our children of their childhood and let Chelmsford High school lead the way on the ‘tutor proof’ test enabling schools to distinguish between the naturally bright and able child and the one who has been tutored to within an inch of their lives.
As a parent coach I see the results and outcomes of a pressured child later in their teenage years feeling not quite good enough; parents feeling disappointed in their children; parents maybe complaining of the overly pressurised environment. Some educational environments described as overly pressurised may just be the wrong environment for that child. The child may not have developed the skills or the best work habits and having been placed in an environment not best suited to their learning style and profile. The effect on self-esteem and how children view themselves can often be a high price to pay.
Let parenting not be a competitive sport and our children be one of our own ‘achievements’. It’s a real challenge for us as parents but we must strive to achieve some kind of balance between equipping our children with skills for adult life and allowing them to have a happy, unstressed childhood without the years of tutoring. We want them to develop a good work ethic and to enjoy learning rather than just passing exams.
In the words of Madeline Levine from The Price of Privilege:
“Children need to see that we value their character first, their effort second, and then their grades.” Dr Madeline Levine
March 11th, 2013
Any parent and certainly anyone with more than one child will attest to the fact that children are born with inbuilt personality traits, characteristics that define how they interact with the world. Some are cautious from infancy while others will leap in and ask questions later. Some feel things intensely (they cannot believe you would give them the red cup rather than the blue cup) while others are more laid back (they will accept the Thomas the Tank Engine plate if the Winnie the Pooh one is in the dishwasher). Some will nag you until they wear you down while others will accept a ‘no’ and the obverse of this is true too –some kids will give up easily when the going gets tough (and maybe up-end the jigsaw puzzle while they’re about it) while others will stick to it until they’ve mastered the task. Parents will know which of their children need to be told in advance what is going to happen (these ones need the five minute warnings before they have to stop playing and come to have a meal) and which ones will go with the flow. Some kids have phenomenal reserves of energy and can wear parents to a frazzle while others will occupy themselves quietly and may actually be quite difficult to enthuse. Some see the positive side of everything while others persist in seeing the cup as half empty.
Researchers have discovered that “temperament has biological, neurological and physiological underpinnings that affect your child’s mood, ability to calm himself and activity level. … But biology is not destiny….Whether and how strongly genes that underlie behaviours are turned on or expressed depends on the interaction and relationships a child has with the important people in his life.” (Mary Sheedy Kurcinka, Raising your Spirited Child)
Understanding what your child’s temperament is and allowing for it is a cornerstone of successful and connected parenting. “You don’t get to choose your child’s temperament [I used to think what a shame this was as I could have been such a good parent to a slightly different child], nor does your child, but you do make a big difference. It is you who helps your child understand his temperament, emphasize his strengths, provides him with the guidance he needs to express himself appropriately, and gently nudges him forward.” (Kurcinka)
We can all recognise the above characteristics in ourselves too and sometimes one of the difficulties is the conflict between our own personalities and that of our children. One of our facilitators talks about trying to get her introverted son to be more social as she saw this as the way to happiness because she was such an extrovert herself. I’m still coaching my now adult children to understand the personality differences between themselves and their siblings. My extremely extrovert daughter will spend time with friends in order to re-charge her batteries while my son is perfectly happy with his own company and in fact needs to be on his own for periods to re-energise. She thinks her brother (who is no longer living at home) doesn’t care about her when he doesn’t contact her as often as she’d like.
Child psychologist Brian Daly, who teaches at Drexel University in Philadelphia said he often encounters families where parents have no problems with one child but a lot of problems with the other. “One child is very well-behaved and fits their parenting style,” he explained. “You could say the child’s temperament is a good match or fit. They rave about that child; the child is responsive and respectful.” (Parenting Styles: Is Your Child’s Temperament A Good Fit With Yours? By Beth J. Harpaz 05/ 2/12 )
But with the other child, the parents may feel that they’re “constantly butting heads. There may be temper tantrums, digging in heels, but without an appropriate result. A lot of times parents have certain values and it can be hard to adjust those values to meet the temperament of the child.” Daly said parents who are just as stubborn as their kids often get into standoffs because “neither will give ground.”
In 1956 psychiatrists Alexander Thomas and Stella Chess found that children’s personalities could be put in three basic categories: easy, difficult, and slow to warm up. They also identified nine other variables that measured behaviours and traits like wilfulness, moodiness, activity levels, distractibility, attention span, and regularity in sleep, hunger and other biological functions. One finding from their research was that a good ‘fit’ between children and parents results when adult expectations, values and demands are in accord with a child’s natural capacities and behaviours.
Mary Sheedy Kurcinka urges us to look at temperament in positive ways. She says that “Identifying your child’s temperamental traits is like taking an X-ray. It helps you to recognize what’s going on inside of your child so you can understand how he is reacting to the world around him and why. Once you realize the reasons behind his responses, you can learn to work with them, ease the hassles, teach new behaviours where they are needed, and most important, help your child understand and like himself.”
How can we understand, manage and accommodate our children’s temperaments? Below are some ideas of temperamental characteristics taken from Kurcinka’s book Raising Your Spirited Child. We are all somewhere on a spectrum that encompasses two extremes and everything in between so I may find myself somewhere slightly to the introvert end of that spectrum. There are positives and negatives to each characteristic and it will really help if parents can see the good elements of certain character traits and know how to manage those aspects they find difficult.
Intensity -this can be framed as doing things with energy and enthusiasm. We need to recognise that it can lead to great frustration for the child and we need to help the intense child to recognise this quality about themselves and to teach them to respond to growing intensity before it overwhelms them. We can provide calming activities (such as massage or calming music), use time outs as calming strategies not as punishments and use humour to diffuse situations. Parents of intense children will want to provide lots of opportunities for exercise and adequate sleep.
Persistence – this can be seen as sticking to things, determination and commitment rather than stubbornness. Persistent children can be independent and capable. View this as a good thing! Parents need to problem solve with the child to find solutions that work for everyone. It will be important to be consistent with family rules. This involves being clear in the first place about what your values are. Discuss this between parents and then have a family meeting to draw up rules. When the child doesn’t want to do what’s required his feelings will need to be acknowledged. This will help him to let go of the issue.
Sensitivity – it helps to recognise that this child is tender hearted. His sensitivities to feelings make him empathetic but also prone to hurt. He may be creative. He may dislike loud noises, bright lights and crowds, be overwhelmed by too much choice and clutter, he may dislike being touched and may find his clothes scratchy. Protect this child from overstimulation and restrict electronics. Help him manage his feelings by talking to him about them, describing them and accepting them. Teach him to recognise when he is getting overstimulated and find ways to self soothe.
Perceptiveness – this child notices things, has great observational skills and may be very creative. She may also get distracted easily. It may be hard for her to focus and hear instructions. Encourage her to listen by giving her lots of descriptive praise and by asking her to repeat your instructions. Don’t give too many instructions at once. Write rules down or have them in picture form. Ask her what she needs to do more than telling her. Minimise distractions by providing quiet and uncluttered environments for work and play. Allow her plenty of down time to chill out after she has had to focus.
Adaptability – this child likes to be organised, needs to know what is happening and may find change difficult, including transitioning from one task to another. He needs help to be flexible. Parents need to let this child know what’s happening ahead of time and allow time for him to get used to things. 5 minute warnings (but not in a threatening way) are helpful.
Regularity – see this child as flexible and spontaneous and enjoy the surprises rather than focusing on the inconsistencies which his temperament will throw up. He will need help getting used to routine and will need a high degree of consistency –this may be difficult if the parent themselves is irregular. He’d make a great ER doctor, DJ, pilot, police officer or other professional who works crazy hours.
Energy – the child who is full of energy may be a great sports person and work really hard and it can wear parents out living with them so it is important to plan to accommodate high levels of energy. Provide activities that stimulate and try to avoid too many of those that require sitting still for long periods. Allow opportunities to let off steam after being confined.
First reaction – the cautious child will often reject things on first presentation and is slow to warm up but it is alright to observe and judge before joining in. Be glad that this child thinks things through (you will when he’s a teenager) and praise him for it. Parents can help by forewarning of activities, practising in role play, descriptively praising the child for taking some risks, reminding them of similar times when they were successful and allowing time. Help the child recognise that their first reaction may not be their final one –they can change their minds.
Mood – this analytical, serious child may see the negatives of situations and may need encouragement to see the positives –this may involve pulling something apart into smaller segments to see what they enjoy about it. Encourage them to see themselves as deep thinkers. Celebrate little successes with them by using descriptive praise and talking about the good in many things. Keep a golden book where you record their own good behaviours, successes and things to be grateful for.
Other writers have different ways of characterising temperamental traits.
Extroversion – The extrovert is energised by other people. This child thrives in situations where there is a lot of interaction, activity, and stimulation. Extroverts are usually quite social and gregarious and are able to talk to new people. They are comfortable in groups, quick to approach others including strangers, and enjoy working in busy stimulating environments. Conversely, they can feel quite lonely, bored and drained if they have to spend a lot of time alone. They may act before thinking, not listen to others and flare up quickly. Introverts, on the other hand, can become drained by too much interaction. They draw their energy from the inner world of thoughts, emotions, and ideas. They tend to be more contemplative and are likely to pursue solitary activities that allow them to work quietly and alone. They tend to wait and listen until they’ve formulated their thoughts before expressing them.
Get to know your child’s temperament by observing them closely and considering what activities they like and apply the above guidelines to see what fits. The better you know your child the better you will be able to draw out the best in him or her and be less frustrated.
November 30th, 2012
Child Psychologist and play expert Amanda Gummer has warned parents not to give in to pressure and buy kids lots of expensive toys this Christmas. (Research, carried out by Sainsbury’s and reprted in Metro on 30th November, has found that parents spend an average of £104.4 on each child.) She thinks that the lists of top toys released at this time of year and of course advertising add to the pressure on parents. She advises: “Don’t give in to the pressure from the media and the school playground to buy the most expensive, latest toys on the market. Often toys that children will play with over and over again don’t make it into the top 10 lists.” (clickhere to see Amanda’s article).
In Carl Honoré’s book Under Pressure he explores the nature of modern toys and looks particularly at electronic toys and toys like iTeddy which do all the child’s thinking for them and concludes that these do not allow for the child’s imagination to grow. Simpler toys like dolls, construction kits, train sets and cars, ‘house’ items like kitchen sets provide the richest experience for children because they can use their own imagination more. Many parents have had the experience of the child unwrapping an expensive, complicated gizmo at Christmas only to find it discarded and the child playing with the box it came in a week later. The Stockholm based International Toy Research Centre concludes that what children really need is time without external input so that they can process their own experiences. Many modern toys superimpose someone else’s story on the users. There has even been a change in Lego from simple bricks which allow the child to create and problem solve to sets with specific dedicated pieces and instructions which dictate what should be made. If children get spoon fed everything, even in play, their imaginations close down, they don’t develop the ability to pursue sustained thought and they get bored easily, always looking for the next electronic stimulus or experience. This can make it hard for children to focus at school. It also means that children get tired of these toys quicker.
In fact at TPP we were pleased to see a mix of traditional toys on one list of top toys for 2012 (John Lewis’s top ten list) –these included dolls houses, scooters, Lego and Furbys and other soft toys as well as some electronic toys.
This might help guide parents’ choices about what type of gift to give their children but they may still be concerned about how much children get at Christmas and whether or not their children appreciate what they are given.
Last year UNICEF UK released a report entitled Child well-being in the UK, Spain and Sweden: The role of inequality and materialism. The UK did not compare well with Spain and Sweden in terms of the wellbeing of children and the role of consumer products in their lives. “…in Spain and Sweden the pressure to consume appeared much weaker and the resilience of children and parents much greater than in the UK. Families in the UK appear to face greater pressures on their time and money, and react to this in ways they feel are counter productive to children’s well-being….Most children agreed that family time was more important to them than consumer goods, yet we observed within UK homes a compulsion on the part of some parents to continually buy new things for their children and for themselves. Boxes of toys, broken presents and unused electronics in the home were witness to this drive to acquire new possessions. Most parents realised that what they were doing was often ‘pointless’, but seemed somehow pressurised and compelled to continue.”
It is real juggling act raising children in the 21st century (particularly in the UK it would appear), where instant gratification has become the norm, where shopping has become a leisure activity and status is defined by what we own. The shops and TV screens are full of enticements, no more so than in the run up to Christmas…. and everyone wants everything….. and they want it now!
As loving parents, we want our children to have the best we can give, we want to show them how much we love them, and, at the same time, we want them to be appreciative of what they have and learn to value their possessions. Many parents are concerned about falling into the trap of over-indulging their children, fearing that their children will grow up to be overly acquisitive and never satisfied, unable to appreciate the true cost of things or differentiate between their needs and their wants.
So how can we instill in our children the values we want and we believe will equip them best for the future, and yet not always have to be the bad cop, saying no, no, no….?
There is one immediate and relatively simple way we can help our children.
We can protect them from the constant advertising which tells them that their value is tied up in what they own and that they need to acquire certain goods in order to fit in. We need to let them know that they are ‘worth it’ even without the advertised product. We can limit their exposure to TV adverts by cutting down on screen-time, or using Sky Plus, and we can discuss with older children the role of advertising and the manipulation involved. Most kids like the idea of not being conned by the conglomerates!
And then it comes down to being clear and true to our values, and communicating this effectively to our children.
So, first, we need to establish what our values are. We need to ask ourselves what does Christmas mean to us and what is the place for gift giving and receiving? What do we want our children to grow up believing is important? What values do we want them to inherit? Are we buying too much for our children? These may be uncomfortable questions to answer honestly.
The UNICEF report suggests that there are high levels of social insecurity in the UK which is compensated for by buying status brands. Is it also because we feel guilty about the amount of time we are able to spend with them as is suggested in the report? Is it because we want them to enjoy what we never had? Some parents interviewed for the UNICEF report suggested that they wanted status brands for their children to protect them from the kind of bullying they experienced themselves as kids. Do we not know other ways to make them feel worthwhile? Has the availability of relatively cheap goods made us lazy and undiscerning about consumer choices? Do we buy because we can’t bear to see them unhappy and we are unable to say no?
Having clarified our values, we now have to communicate them to our children.
Children learn by copying as much as by what we say to them. So we can talk about what our values are but this will be for nought if our own behaviour doesn’t live up to what we say we believe in. So if we believe in moderation and then buy each child a mountain of gifts we are not walking our talk. If we say we think Christmas should be about others and do nothing to encourage them to think of anyone other than themselves we are just paying lip service.
Giving – before focussing on what they want to receive, involve children in giving – it
can be just as much fun!
* Can they select a family member to choose a gift for? Discuss the budget and what the person enjoys and will enjoy getting. Don’t just buy a gift for your child to give without involving them.
* Can they give to others less fortunate? Can you organise a toy tidy-out and donate old toys or books to the local hospital, can they arrange to bake some Christmas goodies and take them to a local children’s home? Even if they’re involved in some kind of charitable activity at school it would really reinforce this as a family value if you did something at home as well. Last year the Oxfam goat was sold out – so get there early if you would like to give a female goat to a needy family in countries like Malawi. www.oxfam.org.uk
* Can they think of non-material gifts? Home made gifts can be wonderful and really appreciated. Bake cookies or make confectionery with the children or get them to write a story or poem and illustrate it or even make a power point story for someone else.
Receiving – many parents worry about increasing piles of unwanted toys.
* Can you set up a system so people club together to buy one gift for your child – that they really, really want? Some families eschew the idea of buying for huge numbers and instead concentrate their energies and resources on buying one gift on behalf of the wider family. We do this in my extended family (32 and growing) and choose the donor and recipient by drawing names out of a hat each year.
* Can they practice how to receive gifts with grace even if they don’t really love them – or have the item already. Use role plays.
* Take your time – we wait 364 days for Christmas yet the giving and receiving of gifts often happens in a few frantic minutes of unwrapping. Can they be Santa’s Little Helper and give out the gifts?
* Saying thank you – writing letters may seem very old-fashioned, but young children can do a drawing, or dictate a letter to you. Older children could Skype or send an email.
We can also model appreciation by being appreciative ourselves, and noticing and mentioning it whenever they are. This might sound like: “I love it when you say thank-you for the things I do for you. It’s polite, and makes me feel really appreciated.” or “You’re taking really good care of your new train set –you put it away very carefully in its box each time you’ve finished with it.” Obviously you’ll love whatever they give you for Christmas –one can never have too many novelty ties or socks or ‘cute’ little trinkets. My now grown up children marvel that I found a use for or display place (in my bathroom) for the holiday souvenirs they brought me. Tip: little shell covered boxes are a great place to keep safety pins. None of you will do what my husband’s great grandmother did when she asked who’d given her ‘this ridiculous thing’ as she discarded a gift from one of her children!
When we prepare for Christmas many of us prepare endless lists of things to do and things to buy but we often don’t prepare our children except for revving them up for the arrival of Santa. If we want to encourage particular behaviours in our children we need to chat through with them beforehand what we expect. This is not a lecture and in fact they should do most of the talking as they are far more likely to do what they say they need to do.
Ask them questions – what will happen on the day, what are they looking forward to and what might be difficult, what behaviour is expected at different points, in church, at the table, when opening presents etc, and how might the child feel….They need to do the talking if they are to be committed to what needs to happen. It is important to empathise that the child may feel very excited and get a bit wild, when it comes to receiving presents they may want to rush to open them, they may be disappointed with what they receive, they may feel jealous of what others are given, and young children often get overwhelmed. We can ask how the child could handle these feelings – some ideas include telling the parent or using some safe venting technique like stamping feet or pounding their fists or taking some time out in their own room if you’re at home. It’s really important we don’t make our children wrong for any of their feelings.
If our children have a meltdown, we need to keep calm – remembering children feel things very intensely in the moment but these feelings pass, and remembering too that it is not our job to keep them happy in the moment; instead it is our job to enable them to make themselves happy in the future, by developing self-control and problem-solving skills. What won’t work is to tell them off for their ungratefulness or other less desirable behaviour.
We are more effective when we can empathise with our children, imagining how they are feeling and reflecting it back to them in words. This is the first step in helping our children understand and manage their feelings. This might sound like: “You wish you could have a car like Jamie’s. You really like it -maybe because it’s so shiny and it’s got cool tires. You know what? I’m proud of you for only making a little fuss about this. I know you’re disappointed and you’re finding it hard to focus on the great things you’ve been given right now. When you’ve given yourself a little time I know you’ll choose one of your own toys to play with.”
Although this may not result in an immediate improvement in behaviour, it does show the child that they are understood and their feelings are accepted, even though their behaviour needs to be re-directed.
Overall, it pays to take time to prepare and train ourselves and our children how best to cope with life in today’s modern material world. It may help to bear in mind the following tough advice from Dr. Phil McGraw, psychologist and author:
“Your child does not have to love you every minute of every day. He’ll get over the disappointment of having been told ‘no.’ But he won’t get over the effects of being spoiled.”
Hope your Christmas is a happy one and you enjoy being with your families.
September 28th, 2012
According to this week’s Daily Mail, £187 million worth of school kit will be lost before the school year is out. Although the excuses that our children come up with may make us chuckle, lost kit drives parents mad, as well as adding another pressure on the household budget. So, is there anything we can do? Of course there is. And it’s not just naming everything that can move.
Getting everyone ready for the morning school run is a challenge in many homes. It’s tempting, and often quicker and easier, to do it all ourselves. This works in the moment, but creates another problem in the longer-term because it doesn’t help children learn how to look after their things, or even be aware of what they have with them at any given time.
Involve the children in the process of collating what they need for the day ahead and packing it into their bag. When we position this to them as a powerful and positive thing to be trusted to do, rather than an awful chore that will drag them down, they will be more inspired to try. There are some great practical tips that parents have come up with – including checklists (written by the children!) that can be stuck to the inside of the locker, or sewn into the school bag, as well as having another copy at home in the kitchen or by the front door.
It’s all very well to be told “this is how you need to do it” but actually we all learn best by doing, rather than just listening.
So spend a little time one weekend, with lots of humour and empathy, practicing getting changed into your games kit and putting everything back in your bag. Or talk through a few ideas about safe places to put your jumper when you get too hot. Any idea they come up with is a good one – it shows they’re taking it seriously, thinking about it, trying hard, wanting to be responsible etc. And it’s probably a good enough idea to try. Our children are much more likely to commit to their own ideas. If there seems to be a flaw in the idea, gently point it out and ask them what else they think they can do.
With a little up-front planning and preparation – which does take time, energy and a little patience, but considerably less than the time, energy and patience it takes to go out and buy another blazer- we should find that more items are kept safe. But realistically, school is a fast-moving, busy, crowded environment and it’s almost inevitable that some things will go missing. What can we do now?
First, it helps to remember the £187 million figure! It means they’re all at it – with over 9 million school children in the UK, that’s about £20 worth of lost kit each year. It’s not just your kid!
At this point, we want to avoid throwing our hands up in the air, and saying “well, this is so typical, you would lose your head if it wasn’t attached to your body” because we don’t want our children to start to believe the label that says they’re just the sort of person who loses stuff. If we believe it about them, they’ll believe it about themselves. And guess what the sort of person who loses stuff does? They lose stuff…..
Instead, we want our children to believe they’re the sort of person who tries hard to be responsible and is a solution-seeker. We don’t want them to be discouraged by problems, we want them to be up for the challenge of sorting things out – and that means finding that missing trainer.
Rather than cutting their pocket-money til they’ve ‘paid’ for the new trainers, which will probably only make them angry with us (it’s so unfair, you’re so mean), we want to give them the benefit of the doubt, that they didn’t mean or plan to lose the trainer, and then brainstorm ideas of how to find it. (I’ve taken my sons to school a few minutes early quite a few times over the years to trawl through an empty cloakroom – and it’s been pretty successful, and a great way to start the day with a ‘phew, I got it’ moment. Once, after two finger-tip searches, we were still down a tracksuit and my son decided to offer a reward. He went into school the next day with copies of a “Wanted: One Tracksuit. Reward: One Toblerone” flyer. The next morning, the tracksuit appeared, and the reward was duly handed over to the ‘finder’.)
So, in essence, we need to be realistic that it’s not easy to keep safe all the items they need, given their relative immaturity, and taking into account the environment they’re in. It will not be surprising – or a dire omen on their future ability to look after themselves – if they do lose something. However, there are lots of things we can help them to do – before and after – that will help keep their stuff safe, and at the same time build their independence, resilience, and foster good a approach to life.
September 17th, 2012
The kids are back at school now and some of you ultra-organised ones may have turned your minds to Christmas already. Don’t worry if you haven’t –there will be more on that in our next newsletter. Others may be focused on your child just having started a new school or a new year with a new teacher and will be wondering how to support your child to do the best they can do.
In a recent article in the Telegraph (7th August 2012)http://www.telegraph.co.uk/education/educationnews/9458290/Teaching-toddlers-to-pay-attention-is-the-key-to-academic-success.html# reference was made to recent research by child development experts which concludes that it is not tutoring in academic subjects that will help your child to succeed but supporting them to pay attention and to perservere. This particular research by Dr Megan McClelland from Oregon State University, published in the online journal Early Childhood Research Quarterly, reflects what the Gottman Institute had noticed as part of their research on developing emotional intelligence. Drs John and Julie Gottman found that children whose parents are emotion coaches for them, that is they recognise, respect and respond to their child’s emotions:
Author (and champion table tennis player) Matthew Syed, in his best-selling book Bounce, explores the idea that innate talent (whether in academic, musical, business or sporting fields) is a myth and that all the best performers in their various areas of endeavour have got to the top of their fields by a combination of opportunity, application and focus. (He does concede that it helps to be a tall if you’re a basketballer).
Professor Carol Dweck of Stanford University’s research into mindsets is particularly interesting for parents. She developed the thesis that people can have different attitudes to learning which either promote or inhibit their development. With a fixed mindset one believes that one has a fixed amount of innate intelligence and that if you can’t do something it means that you have exhausted your store of intelligence. A person who has this attitude will not want to challenge the status associated with his cleverness and will not take risks that will show him to be less intelligent. Her research showed that children would not tackle harder tasks when in this fixed mindset. By contrast people with a growth mindset believe that they can with effort get better at anything and therefore are willing to try new and harder things.
A child’s mindset is affected by how adults talk to them. When we praise a child for cleverness or talent and when we focus on their results we promote a fixed mindset. However when adults praise kids for the effort they make, the attitudes they show, the strategies they employ; when we focus more on the process than the outcome we encourage in them a growth mindset. So don’t praise your child for being clever and don’t let your first question after a football game be did you win?
Parents often ask us, in classes or consultations, how to help children to focus more. Here is what we say:
So be focused on developing good habits of focus and perseverance in your child to help them do well in life.
May 03rd, 2012
Although many 7-year olds (and their parents) are celebrating the scrapping of government guidelines saying they had to complete an hour of homework each week, the rest are still labouring away. And while a few voices, getting increasingly louder, are asking “what are we doing this for?” the reality is that in the UK children start homework in Year 1, and by Year 10-11 are completing up to 2½ hours a night.
And few of them like it. And not many of us enjoy it either
Homework can be the single most stressful issue in a home (at least 50% of parents report having serious rows with their children over homework that involve yelling and crying – the reality is probably higher given a natural reluctance to admit that these things happen) and homework can come to dominate our schedules, and our conversations with our children.
In addition to our parenting role, which can be stressful enough in its own right, in the evening we have to don our teaching hat, and support our children who have already been at school for maybe 8 hours already to do more work sheets, essays, test papers etc.
The ‘quality’ moments where we build and boost our relationship with our children are usually the first casualties of the ever-increasing levels of homework. It also reduces their time for unstructured play or thinking and processing time. However, we all want our children to do well at school, and while the debate will continue to rage about whether children need homework, how much should be set, what type, when it should start, and the rest, back at home the parental role is to help our children cope with whatever homework they bring back.
So, what is homework for?
It may seem like a simple question, but the answer may not be that straightforward and until we understand what we are hoping our children will gain from homework , we can’t be sure HOW to help them.
Is homework to improve their learning? Or for them to gain study skills? Does homework teach children about responsibility and self-discipline? Or as Alfie Kohn suggests in ‘The Homework Myth’ is homework simply something they need to get used to, because that in itself is a life-skill they need to learn?
There’s a lot of research about homework – although most of it starts from the premise that homework should exist and then aims to demonstrate that it benefits students. In ‘The Homework Myth’ Alfie Kohn lays out the case against homework. The evidence he presents is compelling, if a little overwhelming.
And the central problem is that we’re just not asking the right questions – we ask how we can strengthen our children’s back muscles so they can carry increasingly heavy back-packs, and we don’t ask why they’re carrying so many books, and whether it is doing them any good. We ask how much is the perfect amount of homework in order to increase test scores, and we don’t ask whether tests are a good way to improve learning. We accept homework, and we content ourselves with asking questions about the detail, rather than challenging the concept.
These are good questions for parents and schools to ask and we need to educate ourselves about this. I do believe it is important that we question rather than simply accept, that we talk to each other, and share our concerns with our schools; that we don’t meekly accept without question something that we don’t always believe is right for our children. For now we have homework and so I want to focus on how we can help our children not just cope with it and not lose their natural love of learning but to be motivated to do it, to develop creative thinking and to get into independent habits of study.
Many schools officially encourage parents to let them know if a child is struggling with homework. But it’s not easy to do this – there are many credible reasons why we feel uncomfortable about it. We may accept that homework should be difficult, that children will dislike doing it, and we don’t want to be seen to be indulgent to our child, or cause a fuss…. It’s a long list. (My 11-year old son didn’t want me to discuss a recent comprehension with his English teacher because he didn’t want his mates to see that his mother had come into the classroom – it’s my world, he said, and it’s not cool for your mum to come in….).
So, as well as considering taking an active role in the homework debate for future children, what shall we do for OUR children in the here and now?
First, let’s go back to the question of what we hope our children will gain from doing homework.
In our classes we ask parents what characteristics they want their children to develop. No parent has ever said they want their children to buckle down and accept things without question, instead they say they want their children to be curious, self-motivated, to know themselves, to be confident to share their opinions, and much more.
Let’s look at a few of the qualities that we strive to bring out in our children, and see how they relate to homework.
In theory, homework COULD teach our children to take responsibility for their own learning, but, in real life, we don’t often give them the chance to take any responsibility for it. The school decides it must be done, the teacher decides what it shall be about, and, in most families, the parents decide the where, when and even how. (“Use this pen, sit here, no you can’t have music on, underline this, rub that out…..”) In fact, we usually don’t even let our children have the responsibility of remembering to do homework – a Californian study found that parents raise the topic of homework within 5 minutes of meeting their children after school!
What shall we do?
(1) Hold back asking them about their homework – give them a chance to mention it first, and take ownership of their homework.
They may remember and mention it themselves, which is a great opportunity for Descriptive Praise, or they may not. Rather than believe the worst (they’ve forgotten it, they don’t take this seriously, they’ll never achieve anything in life unless I make sure it gets done….) instead, take a breath and consider why they may not have mentioned it. Chances are they’re used to you bringing it up, or they’d simply rather tell you about something else about their day first. Or, of course, they’re not looking forward to it…
If you really can’t wait to raise the topic, try a gentle reminder (“Do you think we’ll get some time after tea to play that game?” or verbalise their reluctance (“Guess the last thing you want to think about right now after a busy day is your homework….”)
(2) Rather than impose the homework schedule that you believe is best, involve them in creating it.
Sit together and discuss the where’s and when’s and how’s – it’s perfectly reasonable that you set the parameters (they need to be where you can hear/see them,) and it’s effective and fair when they take some ownership of the details (have a snack first).
I have, in the past, dictated the chair my sons sat on, and the direction they faced. I insisted homework was attended to before anything else, including a meal. Then I realised I was using the food as a lure, and I wasn’t comfortable with this. As growing boys with growing appetites, they needed food before they could concentrate for another nano-second, and as normal boys with huge energy levels, they often need to blow off steam first before settling down for another session of study. So, the routine in our home has changed recently – their favourite option is eat, play, study, which (rather unsurprisingly) is my least favourite option! However, it’s working so far.
Start small, and let them make small choices about their homework NOW so they can make big choices about their homework IN THE FUTURE. (We don’t get better at making decisions by having them made for us!) Much resentment is avoided when they feel they have a measure of control.
(3) When the homework is completed, encourage them to look through their work and suggest improvements to you.
This replaces us pointing out the errors they have made– not only is this de-motivating, it doesn’t help them get into the habit of checking their own work, and spotting improvements. When we encourage them to look for themselves, it helps them get used to the idea that they will make mistakes, but they can identify them, and put them right and move on.
“You’ve managed to get lots of capital letters and full stops in here. They make your sentences easy to understand. Can you find any places where a full stop or capital letter would make it even clearer?” “You’ve been working hard on your spelling, and it shows in this piece of work. Are there any words you’re unsure about and would like to check?”
Creativity, motivation and the love of learning
The majority of homework is repetitive – and while some repetition is necessary for transferring to our long term memories things like times tables, spelling words and French verbs (and even then there are more creative/fun ways of doing this) doing the same thing over and over again is boring for those who can already do it, and depressing and stressful for those who can’t. Not only that, it can limit our ability to search for alternative ways to answer problems, and research shows us over and over again that doing something because you HAVE to do it decreases motivation.
“Homework may be the single most reliable extinguisher of the flame of curiosity.” Deborah Meier, quoted in ‘The Homework Myth’
Of course we want to teach our children – let’s allow the teachers to focus on the front-end academic side, and let’s focus on teaching our children about real-life. And there’s an awful lots of maths, English, Science, Geography and History in our every day world – there’s even a fair amount of Latin!
What can we do?
(1) Go out – and take school learning into other areas, and make it fun!
We can visit museums, galleries, exhibitions, theatres, as well as watch films and TV programmes, about the topics they’re studying. Or simply go for a walk and talk…. Or let them go out in the dark to see the stars or let the children take the lead on how to pursue an idea as they do in some schools in Finland, a country at the forefront of academic excellence and one that eschews the ideas of homework and testing.
(2) Stay in – and make fractions and ratios real
It’s not as hard as it might seem – watch a bath run and see how things sink and float, or how much water is displaced, or ripples move; make a cake or salad dressing, and weigh ingredients and see how they mix together or not; have a Victorian evening, with candles and playing cards; plot holidays on a globe or atlas, dress up like an Egyptian, make an ant-factory, have a scrapbook or project about anything that interests them.
3) Model an interest in learning
Each and every time we sit down to read a book for fun, or pick up a dictionary or search the web to find something out we don’t know, or visit a museum or art gallery or go to a talk or do some form of training we set our children a great example that learning takes place throughout our lives.
Independence and involvement
Children are encouraged to do their homework on their own. However, research is showing that working with others, brainstorming and collaborative work, is more productive than working alone.
So that brings up the contentious issue of parental involvement. We know we’re not supposed to actually do their homework. (In my experience, my ability to do their homework didn’t last as long as I expected or hoped it might…. but then I ‘learned’ a lot by rote, and out of fear, perhaps it’s not surprising most of it has evaporated.)
Research shows that when parents get involved, the level of stress rises. When parents are told that the homework is for a test, they tend to interfere with the homework more, and the child tends to do less well on the test. When parents are not aware there is to be a test, they tend to stand back more, and the child tends to do better in the test.
What can we do?
(1) Discuss their homework with them in a positive way– not is it finished or where have you put it, but ask their opinion, share ideas and thoughts.
This is particularly true for reading. Of course, repeated practice helps children become proficient readers. But reading for enjoyment’s sake is one of the first casualties of homework. Once a child has to read a certain amount of their book, or read for a set amount of time, it becomes a chore and the love is lost.
“The best way to make students hate reading is to make them prove to you that they have read.”Alfie Kohn in ‘The Homework Myth’
After your child has read, either with you or on their own, rather than sign the reading book, talk for a few moments about what they’ve read. If appropriate, perhaps your child can fill in the reading book – putting the date and number of pages read – and give it to you to sign-off. It’s these tiny acts that help them feel involved – that homework is something they do, not something that is done to them. Don’t reward kids for reading other than to praise them for their progress – it should be enjoyable for itself and if we dangle a carrot then we are undermining that message.
(2) When they moan and complain about homework, hear them.
When we listen to their complaints we may worry that we are agreeing with them. We worry that if we validate the negative things they say they will become negative about other things whereas we want them to be positive. None of this is true. (“I hate this homework, why do I have to do it?” “I hate it too, and I don’t understand why they keep giving it” –this is agreeing – as opposed to “It’s tough having to sit down and do more maths, when all you probably want to do is curl up, or run outside, etc.”-this is empathising)
We’re allowing them to tell us how they feel. How children feel about homework is very important as it affects their whole relationship with school, studying, and learning. When we empathise with them, we can actually lower their reluctance or resistance to doing it and let go of their negative feelings. When we try to explain or cajole them to do it, or make them feel wrong for complaining, we give them the message that their instincts and emotions are wrong, and they need to learn to over-ride them and get on with doing as they’re told. Not only that, they can’t talk about it with us because we’re not going to hear it. Not really the life lesson we want our children to learn, nor the relationship we hope to have with them. When they feel heard they have the experience of someone validating their perspective. When we acknowledge their point of view we can help them be calm and move on.
January 17th, 2011
As the recycling trucks take away the last bags of ripped wrapping paper and broken up boxes, homes are full of new toys and games. In the playgrounds, children are comparing notes about who got what, and, at home, they are busy determining which are destined to become much loved favourites and which will be gathering dust on the shelf.
After all the recent focus on presents, it’s interesting to read about some research from Cardiff University which concluded that 75% of 11-12 year olds rated spending time with their family, above spending time with friends or time alone. When asked what they enjoyed doing with their family, the children didn’t mention playing games or being taken shopping or on day-trips or outings. They talked about “routine” and “ordinariness” and about the feeling of “having someone around”. What the children seem to value is a time to rest and relax, with a sense of control and security, which they get from being WITH us, rather than being with friends, or indeed from having the latest gizmos, gadgets and games.
In our classes, we talk about making sure you spend some “Special Time” with each child at some point during the week. It needs only be 5-10 minutes, and it can take place at any time of the day and anywhere. The point that makes it “Special” is that is guaranteed and regular time with you – uninterrupted by anything or anyone. There are many benefits, but the beauty is the simplicity. You don’t have to do anything with them, just be with them. If there is a particular conversation or an activity, it’s at their urging and under their direction.
But I was still not sure I’m that great company for my children, until I asked my eldest (aged 10 years) what was good about the recent holidays, and the answer was “just being at home with you”. It surprised me, in the lovely way it does when you realise they sometimes know more and better than we do….. I asked what was so good about “just being at home” because personally “just being at home” can drive me mad….. And the response of “I like knowing you are here, and knowing where everything is and what is going to happen because I feel safe” very much confirmed the Cardiff University research.
Now, I don’t think my child feels particularly unsafe anywhere else. There are no signs to cause me any concern in this area. But I had not thought about it like this before. The world outside the front door really can be pretty big and scary, even when you’ve reached double digits, and I realise now I hugely underestimate the comfort and pleasure our home and my presence in it gives my children. I don’t always need to add anything particular – although being actively engaged with your child is always going to be something you wish you did more of. Sometimes I just have to be me and be here.
October 04th, 2010
By Ann Magalhaes
I remember growing up, when school reports were handed out and I received grades around the 80% mark. I would then call my Dad and tell him the results, feeling pretty good about myself. His response was inevitably something like: “what happened to the other 20%”. Now, to my teenage ears, what I heard was “you didn’t do well enough, or you could have done better, or you were lazy and didn’t study enough.” My enthusiasm, and motivation to try harder deflated faster than a popped balloon!
Years later, I mentioned this to him and he was really surprised that his words had had such an impact on me. He told that his intention was always about getting me to think about the other 20%, and that in his eyes, I was so capable of achieving 100%. He only wanted me to look at the gap and to understand what I could have done differently.
Fast forward 25 years, and I now have my own child, and one of my greatest concerns is that she will also not put in that extra effort. What I hope for her is that she works hard to do the best that she can, and that she has the confidence to go for things – whether it be academically or extra curricular.
A few months ago I was reading Mindset, the Psychology of Success by Carol Dweck. I bought the book after seeing her interviewed by the comedian David Baddiel, who had filmed a documentary about education. In the show he asked for her opinion about the worst things we can tell our children. Her response surprised him – and me! She told him that the worst three words we can say to our children are “You’re. So. Clever.” And don’t we all do it? ‘Good job, great game, clever girl, atta boy’ Curious, I had Amazon mailing the book to me by the end of the week! Dweck writes about instilling in our children (and ourselves!) what she calls a growth mindset – believing that intelligence is not innate, but can be developed. As parents, we need to ensure we’re doing this is by praising the effort and attitude that our kids are putting into their work, sports, musical instrument practices. It’s about having the curiosity to learn rather than the desire to feel smart; it’s about being able to perceive feedback as contribution rather than criticism; it’s about seeing others as potential collaborators rather than threats. It makes so much sense! The aspect of growth mindset that I love the most is the focus on trial and error – allowing ourselves the freedom to make mistakes and to learn from them.
While writing this blog, I was watching some Carol Dweck interviews on Youtube, and spotted a Nike commercial featuring Michael Jordan – quite possibly the best basketball player ever. He says “I have missed over 9000 shots in my career, I’ve lost almost 300 games; been trusted with the game-winning shot 26 times – and missed. I failed over and over and over and that is why I succeed”. One of the most challenging things we face as parents is the ability to let our kids make mistakes. Perhaps by allowing them the privilege of making mistakes, we also allow them the privilege of figuring things out for themselves, and allowing them to shine!
September 15th, 2010
By Ann Magalhaes
My 7 year old is a Suzuker! Since she was 4 ½ she has been learning the violin using the Suzuki Method, a method I chose because I have a few friends who themselves learned the Suzuki way, and highly recommended it. Her school had a very inspired teacher who was introducing a new programme and I thought it would be great for her to start to learn such a beautiful instrument. For those unfamiliar with Suzuki, the method requires a good deal of involvement from a parent. I attend a weekly private lesson, and a weekly group lesson, with the occasional music camp thrown in for good purpose! At home, my role is to be the teacher/coach — avidly looking out for a beautiful bow-hold, or listening for just a bit more smoothness in a piece.
I really love the idea of Suzuki! The teaching ethos is about focusing on the positive before adding what needs to be improved. It’s a very motivating way to learn a musical instrument, and books have been written to support parents in being great coaches. But, the reality of it is that it can often be challenging. I often wonder if parents with kids who learn by a non-Suzuki system have an easier time of it, and perhaps they do. I have an amazing daughter! Most of the time she is cooperative, kind, hard-working, creative … all great things. When she wants to practice, she plays beautifully, but when she doesn’t want to, she has an incredible ability to go from angel to tyrant in 0.6 seconds – way faster than an F1 car.
About a year ago I realized that the problem wasn’t her motivation, but quite possibly, the problem was me, and how I was being with her during her practices. About the same time I was reading The Price of Privilege, an amazing book about raising children who have been raised with every luxury, to have self-esteem, confidence, ambition, and healthy relationships.
Only twelve pages in, I read “Intrusion and support are two different processes. Support is about the needs of the child, and intrusion is about the needs of the parent.” I instantly related this to violin, and saw that I was being an intrusive mother. Her violin practices weren’t about her! They were about her looking good to the teacher, showing that she had practiced, and that she had learned something new. There was nothing about the joy of playing a beautiful piece of music, the fun of making new sounds, or simply screeching away at the bow to sound like a cat! No, practice was about ticking boxes, and being able to say that 5/7 days, she had practiced! Little shock, then, that practices quickly spiraled into hellish arguments!
I had to think pretty quickly about how I could switch from being a nagging intrusive mother to being a helpful and supportive parent! Now, instead of saying something like “OK, play Go Tell Aunt Rhodie”, I say to her, “which piece would YOU like to start with?”. I now sit down with her before each practice to ask her about which pieces she will play – along with the piece she is learning. I remind her that I am going to sit down, and listen, and offer support when she needs it. Rather than constantly jumping in with nagging and criticism, I can now sit and listen to her play, and this has helped her to in turn listen to the coaching that I am required to offer!
Another quote from the same book reads:
“It’s odd that my mom is everywhere and nowhere at the same time.
Being everywhere is about intrusion; being nowhere is about lack of connection.”
I realized that I had been everywhere during her practices, helping to make it a ritual that was not fun at all!! The actual process of developing good habits around lessons and practicing has taught me so much more than how to play Twinkle Twinkle! I have learned a lot about how to be a better parent, and in doing so, the space for connection has opened up, and practicing is becoming a real joy