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Monday, November 12, 2012

Successfully raising a grandchild

When I gushed over her art, Fiona told me firmly: "Gug-gah, I scribble."

A lot of psychologists have come out against praising children, or more accurately against heaping too much praise on children. According to these experts too much praise doesn't build self-esteem but diminishes it. It's a confidence killer.

Originally I had another title on this post and then I read The New York Times article. I immediately shifted gears and my post took off in a new direction. Madeline Levine wrote:

Dr. Carol Dweck, a social and developmental psychologist at Stanford University, takes young children into a room and asks them to solve a simple puzzle. Most do so with little difficulty. But then Dr. Dweck tells some, but not all, of the kids how very bright and capable they are. As it turns out, the children who are not told they’re smart are more motivated to tackle increasingly difficult puzzles. They also exhibit higher levels of confidence and show greater overall progress in puzzle-solving.

This may seem counter-intuitive, but praising children’s talents and abilities seems to rattle their confidence. Tackling more difficult puzzles carries the risk of losing one’s status as “smart” and deprives kids of the thrill of choosing to work simply for its own sake, regardless of outcomes. Dr. Dweck’s work aligns nicely with that of Dr. Baumrind, a clinical and developmental psychologist at the University of California, who also found that reasonably supporting a child’s autonomy and limiting interference results in better academic and emotional outcomes.

All my life I've been known as a tough critic. My nieces and nephews had to work to impress me, and work they did. Now, as a grandfather, I fear I have lost my harsh edge. I fear I've grown soft. I have turned into a push-over.

Praise, to be beneficial, should be genuine, focused on the child's good effort and hard work and not necessarily the outcome. I read numerous posts on the Web, all agreed the important word here is sincere. Children can sense insincerity. Artificial praise risks damaging trust.

Music playing, Fiona spins as she performs her little dance.
My granddaughter loves to make scribbles in pen and ink and then together we colour some of the open spaces. She picks the colours and the spaces, and I do the colouring. I have really liked some of the art we've created together.

I love the shapes she draws. I love the way she puts pen to page and the bold way she attacks the blank sheet of paper. I've tried emulating her approach; I can't. I over-think my scribbles.

The other day I was gushing over one of her sketches when she turned to me and stopped me dead by telling me firmly, "Gug-gah, I scribble."

Hmmm. Maybe it is time to dial down the praise a notch or two. It might make her a bolder child, willing to tackle the truly challenging stuff — like dance.

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