Another Look At Praising Your Child

Several months ago I wrote about the difference between praising your child and overpraising him.  But in reviewing a recent article in Scouting Magazine, I came across a different perspective from psychologist Carol Dweck.

In her research on the effects of praise, she believed that there was a qualitative difference in the form of praise.  The first form was "person praise", in which a child is praised for their own traits (you’re really smart or you’re beautiful) while the second form was "process praise", in which a child was praised for the process in which they did something well (you did a great job studying for that test).  Her research revealed that there was a quantifiable difference in how the two groups – each receiving its own form, personal or process – did on similar tests. 

In a two part experiment, students who were provided with identical IQ tests on which they all scored well.  But afterward, one half of the group received person praise while the second half received process praise.  In a subsequent part, the students were allowed to choose which of two tests they wanted to take – and there was a discernible difference between the difficulty levels of the tests.  The majority of the person praise group chose the easier test while an overwhelming majority – think 90% – of the process praise group chose the harder exam.  Subsequent interviews found that the person praise group feared that the test would negatively affect their image, i.e. they wouldn’t appear as smart.  Finally, each group was given an identical test and the person praise group did discernibly worse than the process praise group.  In this instance, the person praise group scored 20% worse than the first test while the process group scored 30% better than the first test.  With a testing group of 400 kids, this appears to be significant.

So what does this mean?  First, you simply must pay attention to what the kids are doing and share with them that you’re paying attention.  Kids aren’t stupid and can tell a line of bull from the truth.  Second, offer praise that focuses on what they’ve done.  You can still tell them that they’re smart but if they understand that the success comes from the combination of smarts and applying themselves, it will help them build the drive to succeed and overcome obstacles later in their lives.  Focusing on the process also helps them understand where things did – or did not – work well in the particular circumstance.

As the psychologist notes in the article, "We cannot hand children self-esteem on a silver platter, which is what we’re trying to do with person praise.  What you can do is give them the tools to manage their own self-esteem, to take on challenges and see them through, to build and maintain their own self-esteem."

Which is probably far better said than I could say myself. 

Let Time Pass But Don’t Pass The Time

I stopped by Eldest’s room late last evening to answer a question that I asked myself almost exactly sixteen years ago.  Today is her birthday and on the morning that she was born, I looked at this infant – graced with more hair than I had and a clear resemblance to her mother – and wondered what she might look like when it came time for that milestone, her driver’s license. 

That was exactly 5840 days ago and at that moment, it really seemed like forever.  There were so many things to work through and learn such as feeding and changing this child, and managing to get her down for sleep without having to depend upon her mother.  But with time and persistence, I learned and the process still continues albeit with a different bent.  Should I rebid the auto insurance now that I’m going to have a teen driver on the policy and what discounts can I get for driving lessons?  What are the household driving rules, which are in addition to the road rules?

The point is that time does indeed pass and your child will reach adulthood, with or without you.  But the quality of that adulthood is also however, largely dependent upon your efforts and imputs.  I guarantee that there will be mistakes and that you’ll have regrets but children have a wonderful ability to forgive, one that many of us have lost.  Learn from the mistakes and rectify them but by all means, stay involved and engage the kids in all aspects of their lives.  Regardless whether you’re a father or a mother, raising kids is like one long golfer’s Mulligan.  There will be mistakes but there will be opportunities to make them right if you pay attention and stay with it.

As I finish this note, I’m wondering what she’ll look like on her wedding day.  But there’s still a great deal to do until we get to that point.


Kids and Sleep:  The Teens

From the time that your child is born through the later elementary school years, she’ll need a little less sleep each year until she bottoms out at about 8 – 9 hours each night.  Bedtimes will be mid-evening and she’ll be up and moving at a relatively early hour each morning.  But that amount of nightly sleep required will rise as her body – and his if you have a boy – runs aground on the shoals of puberty.

Kids need more sleep as they enter the teen years with the optimal amount being about 9.5 hours each night.  Most are unaware that many of the key body chemicals and hormones for growth and development are released by the body during sleep.  Unfortunately, the combination of technology/environment and the teen’s body itself works against most teens getting that amount of sleep on a routine basis.  Most teens’ bedrooms are a technological cocoon with the presence of television, stereo, radio, phone and computer.  They’ve become used to the technological ‘noise’ and don’t want to separate themselves from the electronic presence of friends available via the media sources or don’t wish to turn off the ‘noise’ with which they’re now comfortable.  Faced with an early school day, the typical teen is operating on a sleep deficit as the bedtime isn’t until much later than a 9.5 hour optimal sleep amount would account for.  Assuming that a teen has to rise at about 6:30 in order to prepare and arrive at school on time, the ideal teen bedtime would be about 9:00 the previous evening.

Good luck with that.

Life with a teen tends to be an emotional rollercoaster fraught with churlish turns and attitudinal drops.  Honestly, it becomes a bit more difficult for some parents because the evening break that came with an earlier bedtime is now gone and there’s no longer a perceived relief.  It can be easier to blame the desire to stay up later on rebellion and resistance but their late night habits do have a scientific basis.  Humans have a "darkness hormone" called melatonin that the body begins to produce in the evening to relax itself and prepare itself for sleep.  Studies have found that this hormone starts production in the typical adult at about 10:00 in the evening.  The typical teen body however, doesn’t begin production of this hormone until almost 1:00 am, a full three hours later.  So the teen’s body isn’t close to being ready to shut down until much later while still facing an early morning wakeup for school.  The question about delayed melatonin production however, is causal.  Is it due to the hormonal chaos of puberty or instead environmentally delayed by the ambient light produced by the various screens within the teens’ bedrooms?  Nobody frankly knows.

So what are the options?  We try to walk the middle ground and not enforce an "early" bedtime that ensures the full 9.5 hours nightly since there’s going to be enough potential conflict without it.  However, the teens are expected – and required when we catch them – to have the interactive electronics(texting in our case) off at a certain hour before bed so that their bodies have a chance to relax.  We’re helped by the fact that we’ve never allowed televisions or computers in their rooms but they do have music available as we did when we were teens.  The principle is the same but the only difference is the technology platform.  This means that we check on them around bedtime and occasionally afterwards to assure that they’re sans electronics.  I know of other parents who’ve routinely confiscated cell phones at a certain hour each evening to assure that the texting is done or who’ve removed the televisions if they’re found in use after hours.  It ensures that there’s going to be conflict, but some is to be expected as the teens test their limits.  Frankly, refusing to abide by parental rules is always grounds for a worthwhile conflict since parents should expect to be obeyed if the rules are reasonable and fairly enforced. 

Teens are able to absorb information and knowledge at an amazing rate and I’m routinely surprised by what my kids know.  But knowledge isn’t the same as judgment.