For years, experts have been telling parents to praise the behaviour, or the effort a child makes, and not the child him/herself. The thinking behind this bit of wisdom is that praising a child for effort, no matter what the outcome, was much better for the child’s developing sense of self than praising the child for the action itself. For example, “That was such hard work,” versus, “I can see you are a hard worker.” One compliments behaviour, the other acknowledges character. Turns out, merely complimenting behaviour is not such a good idea.
What we’ve actually created is a couple of generations who cannot do anything without constant praise, whose sense of Self is inextricably tied to accomplishments (real or imaginary) and who can’t motivate themselves to do anything they don’t like. As Paul Tough points out in How Children Succeed, there’s no “grit” required of a child in the first scenario. All the validation is external and if that is absent, generally, ain’t nothing happening.
This article in the NY Times just rocks. Like the article on the school in New Zealand whose principal has removed play restrictions on the playground (thereby raising… never mind. Read it for yourself), researchers are finding out that what a child sees has more influence than what a child hears, and that education with an emphasis on morality or character-building has WAY more influence on whether a child will be a successful adult than does either intelligence or GPA.
In other words, inculcating character into your child is a far more profitable effort than trying to raise their self-esteem by preventing them from ever experience failure, or worse yet, encouraging the development of affluenza (which happens even in the absence of wealth) by not allowing [nay, providing] opportunity for hard choices, mistakes, and natural consequences.
This is not a new concept, even though half the world is acting as if someone’s discovered a new planet. The concept of instilling character into a child through the experience of trying, failing, trying again, and succeeding plus witnessing the modelling of moral fortitude is old. Really, really old. Antique, in fact. Ancient, even.
Not surprisingly, this is a technique in cognitive therapy. I ask my clients to “act as if” for homework. “Act as if you are the kind of individual who is kind… persistent… brave… [insert character trait here]. Try it for this week. Use self talk. ‘I am a kind person.’ ‘I am the type of person who never gives up.’ Experiment in different situations. Try the trait on like a coat. Come back next week and tell me how it went.”
Just like teaching victims and the socially fearful to use a ‘power stance’ and to ‘act as if’ they have the courage they need to face whatever the situation is.
Anyway, read the NY Times article. It’s worth your time.