I'm not sure when the trend started.
You know, the one where all children are giving awards for just showing up at school or trophies for simply putting on a uniform.
All the "good jobs" and "way to gos" and "you tried your bests."
Maybe that's why I clicked when a friend shared a link to a Slate review of a new book called "NutureShock: New Thinking About Children" with the headline: "Parents: Most of what you're doing is wrong."
And among the things we're accused of doing wrong is over-praising our children.
Slate interviews Po Bronson, one of NutureShock's authors, about what exactly we're screwing up in the praise department. Bronson explained:
"Only kids about 7 and under are still taking praise at face value. But otherwise, the basic problem is that telling kids they're 'so smart' conveys the idea that intelligence is something you're born with. Parents think saying that is going to give their kids confidence, like this little angel on their shoulder saying, 'Don't back down.' But instead what it teaches them is this idea that you've either got it or you don't. When we're telling kids they're smart all the time, effort gets stigmatized. They come to think that effort is proof to the other kids in class that you can't cut it on your natural gifts. And they also become averse to academic challenges that put them at risk of not looking so smart."
Basically, we're demotivating our kids by praising them for nonachievements — for things that are god-given traits or things that require little or no effort to accomplish. Kids who think they're smart tend to not put forth a whole lot of effort. They've "got it." Other kids don't.
In fact, kids have even discovered a pattern: That the kids who get MORE praise are the ones parents and teachers are most concerned about, Bronson says. (So you mean all those empty you-showed-up certificates aren't fooling anyone?)
Is this book saying I can never praise my kid? Of course not. But, the author advises, we not sling around phrases such as "You're so smart" and "good job" and instead focus on the real effort and work put into a task.
(c) 2009, The Orlando Sentinel.
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