Tag Archives: Parenting

Why Praise Can Be Bad for Kids

8 Jul

Some of you may be familiar with my work in education and in particular my work with gifted and talented students. While fascinated with this particular population, I am always baffled by underachievement and how often it occurs in a population that seems born to succeed. I love the research done by Carol Dweck and appreciated this article that references her work. While Dweck studies the gifted population, I believe this article written by Murphy and Allen has something that all of us can learn. I hope you enjoy reading it. I’d love to hear your comments.

“Wow, you got an A without even studying.”
“Your drawing is wonderful — you’re my little Picasso.”
“Keep it up and you’ll be the next Peyton Manning.”

If you’re like most parents, you offer praise to your children believing it is the key to their success, those flattering words can boost a child’s self-esteem and performance. But according to a new study, praise may do more harm than good.

For the study, researchers divided 128 fifth-graders into groups and gave them a simple IQ test. One group was told it did really well and must be very smart. The other group was told it did really well and must have worked hard. One group was praised for intelligence, the other for effort. Asked if they wanted to take a slightly harder test, the kids praised for their intelligence were reluctant. Of those praised for their effort, however, 90 percent were eager for a more challenging task. And on a final test the effort group performed significantly better than the group praised for its intelligence.

Many of the kids who had been labeled “smart” performed worst of all. The “hard workers” got the message that they could improve their scores by trying harder, but the “smart” kids believed they should do well without any effort.

Praise Can Bring Down Performance

“Contrary to popular belief, praising children’s intelligence did not give them confidence and did not make them learn better,” said Carol Dweck, a professor of developmental psychology at Stanford University and author of “Mindset: The New Psychology of Success.” Her surprising research, which she has repeated with hundreds of kids from all socioeconomic backgrounds, was published recently in the journal Child Development. Dweck found that children’s performance worsens if they always hear how smart they are. Kids who get too much praise are less likely to take risks, are highly sensitive to failure and are more likely to give up when faced with a challenge. “Parents should take away the fact that they are not giving their children a gift when they tell them how brilliant and talented they are,” Dweck says. “They are making them believe they are valued only for being intelligent, and it makes them not want to learn.” When parents, teachers and coaches label a child, they tell the child that he or she is the label and is judged for this label, not for his actual capabilities. The child becomes risk-averse and doesn’t want to chance messing up and being labeled “dumb.” In other words, a “smart” child often believes that expending effort is something only “dumb” kids have to do.

Be Specific About Praise and Don’t Be Afraid to Withhold It

The key is to be specific about the praise you give. “Parents should praise children for their effort, their concentration, their strategies,” Dweck said. For instance, next time your son gets an A on an exam for which you know he hardly studied, tell him you think he should try a tougher class next semester. When he scores the winning touchdown, instead of telling him he’s the best player on the team, ask him how he trained to run so fast.

The flip side is that parents must be honest when their children do not perform as well as their peers. If your daughter finishes last at the track meet, and you know it is because she’s younger and less experienced than other competitors, it is better to tell her that she did not deserve to win because she still needs improvement than to tell her you thought she was the best, no matter what the judges said. But it’s hard to refrain from telling children how smart or perfect they are. “We believe that by telling them they’re smart, they’ll believe they’re smart, and if they believe they’re smart, they’ll attack their schoolwork with confidence,” said Po Bronson, a father of two who wrote the cover story in the current issue of New York Magazine, “How Not to Talk to Your Kids: The Inverse Power of Praise.” Writing the article forced Bronson to re-evaluate his own parenting techniques after learning of Dweck’s research. “I was frightened of this idea that telling a child that they’re smart makes them think that effort is only for dummies, and if you’re smart you shouldn’t have to rely on effort,” Bronson said.
It has not been easy, but Bronson and his wife have changed their ways.

“I have found that I just need to be honest,” Bronson said. “Being honest is going to serve us better in the long run.”

Tips for Parents

• Avoid labels. Praising for effort sends the message that your child has the power to improve and change, but labeling him “smart” gives him little control over changing how he is perceived. Be mindful of labeling yourself (“I can’t do my taxes — I’m terrible at math”) and others (“Your gymnastics partner is such a klutz”).

• Teach kids from an early age that the brain is a muscle that can be strengthened with practice. This sends the message that kids can directly affect their intelligence, which may empower unmotivated teenagers.

• Lose the guilt. Parents often praise their kids to make themselves feel good, or to protect their kids from failure. But it’s critical for parents to help their kids to learn to cope with setbacks and to help them focus on ways to improve.


Unspoken words and Untaught Lessons

5 May

Teaching our children becomes second nature once we enter the world of parenthood. It’s as natural as breathing. We teach them to say “mama” and to tie their shoes. We teach them to wash behind their ears and to say “please” and “thank you.” As they get bigger, the lessons get bigger. “Respect your elders, treat others as you want to be treated and remember that no one can ever take your education away from you.” There are lessons on top of lessons, most of which are directly taught with purpose. I guess what I worry most about is the incidental learning. It’s what they hear when we don’t know they are listening, it’s what they pick up from the behaviors we unknowingly model, and what they read between the lines. Children are immature, and they are supposed to be. This immaturity, while appropriate, allows children to make false connections and assumptions about the world around them. Based on the knowledge they have and their egocentric ways, they often believe they are the cause of most things, good and bad. They are the reason their parents are in a good mood and they are the cause of their parent’s divorce. It’s all about them and it should be. It is developmentally appropriate for children to see the world in this way, in a way that revolves around them. They are sponges for everything we say and do. We teach and they learn.
I cannot begin to imagine all the things that you teach your children. I know while it is natural to you, it is also important. My guess is that you talk to them often and find the teachable moments when you can. I applaud you. It’s hard to catch them all. Even the best parents leave things unsaid and lessons untaught. While we don’t always know the incidental lessons they’ll pick up, there is one lesson I’d like to put on your radar so it will be sure to reach your children. I don’t doubt for a second that they can answer anything I ask them about being kind to their neighbor and washing their hands before they eat, but I wonder what they would say if I asked them… “How do you know you are a good person?”
Being a good person is different than being good at things. So for all the soccer games and gymnastic meets we go too – they only tell our kids they are good athletes (at least we believe they are) and we support their efforts. When we buy them toys and electronics it is because their behavior and their grades are good. If that is the case, then what are we doing and saying to let them know they are a good person? I bring this up to you because it matters, a lot.
I won’t ever forget that feeling when I could not answer the question myself. Someone asked me and I was speechless. I had the best parents. They did everything for me, they supported me, they taught me lessons and they bought me things. Life was good, but was I? I was pretty sure I was. Wasn’t that the message they were sending me all those years? Isn’t that what my mother was telling me every time she bragged about me in front of me? Indeed it was.
Although I didn’t answer the question that day, I can answer it now. The journey has been long but it doesn’t have to be. If your words aren’t exact, it leaves things open to interpretation. Why risk it? This is our children’s self image we are talking about. The question doesn’t have to be so difficult and the response can be automatic if the lesson is taught early and often.
While in that moment, I did not know for sure how I knew I was a good person, I knew for sure there was an unspoken message and an untaught lesson I had to get my children… and fast! Over the years it has now become second nature to praise my children for being good people. If ever they were asked how they know if they were a good person, I believe they’d say, “My mom tells me I am.” When I hear stories about what happened on the playground, I respond with things like, “Wow, you are a good friend. I like the way you handled that.” When I see a kind gesture between my children, they are likely to hear, “You’re a good brother, I saw how you helped your sister out.” If you watch your children closely enough, you’ll find ample opportunity to use my favorite line, “Your heart is so good.”
My advice to you is this…Catch them being good! When you recognize that your child does a good thing, makes a move from the heart, shows kindness, empathy, or concern for others, take advantage of that teachable moment to teach them that they are a good person. It’s an invaluable lesson that is more important than eating our vegetables and remembering to say “Yes sir.”

Breaking Bad News To Your Kids

14 Oct

Have you ever felt ill-equipped to communicate with your kids when something bad has happened?  Have your found yourself looking for a book about it so that you can just read to them instead and hope they get the message?  If you’ve felt like this, know that most people do.  It’s awkward, it’s uncomfortable, and it’s nothing short of painful to see your children hurting.  Most people are at a loss for words when a pet runs away, a divorce is pending, or a grandparent dies.  While it may be your natural instinct to want to protect your children from painful experiences, it’s not what is best for them.  Life is full of painful emotions, so here are some guidelines for you to help your child navigate through them.

The first and most important thing to do is to check your own emotions about the situation.  Get a handle on them before addressing your children.  The last thing you want is for your children to worry about taking care of you. It’s understandably harder when it is an emotional issue for you so determine if perhaps there is someone more appropriate to deliver the message to your children.

Be open.  Kids may react in a variety of ways in which you did not expect.  They may cry, laugh , get angry or do nothing at all.  Don’t worry too much about initial reactions, some kids just need time for the news to sink in.  Be there when it does.

Make sure you give information according to your child’s age.  The younger they are, the less information they need.  Your teenagers will need more information and will likely have more questions for you.  Answer any and all questions as they come.  Don’t be surprised if you get blamed for the bad news.  Children don’t have a lot of life experience yet and simply don’t understand that sometimes bad things just happen.

Reassurance is important.  Remind your children that you love them and you are there for them.  If you are uncertain about how long you are able to be there for your children  (such as when you recieve a terminal prognosis), make sure they know of other caring, trusted adults who will be there for them.

Talk about what the bad news means for them personally.  Be specific.  Will it change their life a lot?  Not at all?  Be willing to talk about details with your older children so they can know what to expect.  If you are concerned that your child isn’t talking to you about it,  make sure other adults in their life are aware of what is going on.  Talk to coaches, teachers, youth group leaders and anyone who can offer support.

In the midst of breaking bad news, do your best to stay positive and talk about how to hang in there while dealing with the situation.  This is a great time to model healthy coping skills during times of stress.  Your children are watching you and following your lead whether your eat or drink your way through stress or surround your self with a support network to lift you up.

Bad news is part of life and your children will come to recognize that as they grow up.  Now is the time to equip them with the skills to handle whatever comes their way.  Talk to them – I’m wishing you the very best!

Leave a comment if you can offer some strategies for breaking bad news to kids.

*This blog was pieced together with information on breaking bad news to your kids found on www.parentfurther.com.  It’s an incredible resource for parents!

Resiliency: How to Bounce Back

12 Oct

“Resiliency is the ability to spring back from and successfully adapt to adversity. An increasing body of research from the fields of psychology, psychiatry, and sociology is showing that most people, including young people, can bounce back from risks,tress, crises, and trauma and experience life success.” ( source: www.resiliency.com)

This is excellent news!   Don’t you agree?  I think it is amazing that people are wired with an innate tendency to “right the self”  We are not doomed to depression or a life of gloom when lifes throws us a curveball.   We don’t have to crawl under the covers and cry, we don’t have to hold onto years of anger and our self esteem doesn’t have to take a big hit.  Everybody breathe… it’s going to be ok.

How does one bounce back?  I’m glad you asked.

Here is what we know about resilient people, they have a strong network of support in their family and around their family.  Remember… your family is what you make it, that might mean your friends and co-workers too!   What most people find in the midst of support is that their struggle is not unique to them.  People all over the world have faced similar situations and survived.  Talk to others and try to take the personalization out of your situation.  At some point, everyone has lost a job, had a sick child, hated their in-laws or filed for divorce.  It isn’t pretty but we’ve all been there.  So gain some perspective from talking to others and feel your load lighten as you begin to bounce back.

Research also tells us that resilient people have a strong emotional IQ.  Did you even know there was such a thing?  A strong emotional IQ means that you manage your emotions and you are empathetic to others.  There is no other way around it.  If you are upset all the time, taking things personally and full of judgement, I hate to tell you but your emotional IQ could use a lift.  Managing emotions can be tough but practicing empathy is as simple as putting yourself in someone else’s shoes.  Try it.  Ask yourself questions to try to see things from their point of view – How are they feeling?  What would make them say that?  If you can focus on the feeling behind their behavior, it often helps you understand them, empathize with them and bounce back.

When it comes to our failures and we fail at something we are inherently interested in, like a hobby, a sport, or any passion of ours, we are far more likely to keep working longer through the difficulties than if we fail at something less meaningful.  One way to think about this is with our children.  Kids who work for rewards, prizes and money are often less resilient when their level of interest and engagement for the activity itself is not there.  In other words, it will be worth your while to find what you and your children are interested in.  What’s their “spark”?  What’s yours?  Find out and get to it.   When we have a “spark”  in our life that makes us happy, then it becomes more difficult to take on the “everything is bad” attitude.  We have perspective and ultimately we are more resilient.


Have fun bouncing back!

Growing Pains for Moms: A Personal Story

9 Oct

It’s almost a cruel joke to allow us to carry our babies inside our bodies and give us total control over them.  They eat what we eat, they go where we go, they feel what we feel.  Despite the extra 40lbs and the nausea, sometimes it was just easier then.   It was easier when I didn’t have to see them growing so fast and sometimes hurting in the process.

In the last month I finally realized we’ve gone from reading Mercer Mayer Little Critter Books to  The Hunger Games.  When and how did that happen?  I’ve read to my children since before they were born.  They both love to read and they like to make it a family affair.  The best set up is the 3 of us piled together in one bed with several short books.  We’ve read everything under the sun but lately I’ve heard comments about the babyish books we have.  I guess your kids still grown up even if you continue to read Goodnight Moon to them.  They are growing up and changing and there is not a thing I can do about it.  I think I can handle the change in their reading materials, but its the emotional struggles I can barely stand to watch.

I believe in the saying, ” A mother is only as happy as her saddest child.”  Over the weekend I watched both of my kids struggle in their personal endeavors.  First it was my son on the soccer field as his failed attempt to help his team turned into a score for the other team and an injury to our goalie. I saw his hands go up and slap his head in disbelief and the tears come.  I was all the way over on the sidelines but I could almost hear the words he was saying, I’ve heard them every time he realizes he’s just done something less than great.  He’s a perfectionist in some ways and holds himself to a very high standard.  He’d messed up and he knew it.  I wanted to run out there and tell him it would be OK but I had to let it all play out and hope he could soothe himself and that his peers may have a kind word or a pat on the back for him.  I was never more thankful for his coach who hugged him twice.

A day later we watched my daughter compete in her gymnastics meet.  This is the one that would qualify her for the state competition.  I watched her practice with grace until she received the judge’s salute and she began her routines.  I watched her wobble.  I watched her fall off the beam.  I was all the way up in the stands but I could almost hear the words she was saying.  You guessed it, she also holds herself to a very high standard.  She’d messed up and she knew it.  I wanted to run out there and tell her it would be OK but again, I had to let it all play out and hope her teammate would hug her for me.  I was thankful for her coaches who continued to high five her with encouragement and coach her on to the next event.  The day ultimately ended in tears as her low scores kept her from qualifying.  I hugged her as we cried together and finally her daddy carried her to the car.

I spent most of the next day stewing about how hard it was to watch them struggle and wonderfing if these were life changing events for them.  I wonder if they are chalking it up to a bad day or determining they are not quite the athletes they thought they once were.  What was going on inside their heads?  I spoke to both of them and shared some of my own experiences from childhood when I didn’t perform the way I wanted to and how I handled it.   Sharing “the experience of being me” has always proven to be more helpful than a lecture or a pep talk.  I think they appreicate the fact I’ve been there and done that.  Essentially, I’ve been sad too as a result of my own mess ups.  I guess the fact I’m still walking around trying  to get through life has encouraged them not to give up.  We’ll be back on the field and in the gym this week trying to get it right.

Leave a comment and let me know if you’ve been there done that with your kids!

Parenting Workshops in San Antonio

23 Sep

For those of you in and around San Antonio, I’d like to invite you to join us for some amazing Parenting Workshops.  We’ll be holding them for the next 10 weeks and would love for you to participate.  The information we’ll be sharing is for parents raising children ages birth to 17 years. 

Each week we will cover a new topic.  While you will always be the expert on your child, we’d love to share some information on the following topics:

  • stages of development
  • behavior management
  • communication skills
  • discipline techniques
  • how to boost self-esteem
  • how to have the sex talk
  • ways to impart values

This is just a sneak peek!  Each workshop is only $5 and you can pick and choose which ones you want to attend.  Our workshops are CPS approved!  This is ideal for anyone with an open CPS case that needs to attend parenting classes. A certificate of completion can be provided after 8 workshops.

If you or someone you know is interested, please give us a call at (210) 460-0442 and sign up.

Parenting Workshops begin next week on Wednesday, September 26th from 6:30 – 8:00pm.  Please call for the location and further details.

Hope you’ll join us and spread the word!

Sincerest thanks,


Welcome to Holland

2 Sep

I am often asked to describe the experience of raising a child with a disability; to try to help people who have not shared that unique experience to understand it and to imagine how it would feel.  It would feel like this…

When you’re going to have a baby, it’s like planning a fabulous vacation trip to Italy.  You buy a bunch of guidebooks and make your wonderful plans.  The Coliseum, the Michelangelo David, the gondolas in Venice.  You may learn some handy phrases in Italian.  It’s all very exciting.

After months of eager anticipation, the day finally arrives.  You pack your bags and off you go.  Several hours later, the plane lands.  The stewardess comes in and says, “Welcome to Holland.”

“Holland?” you say.  “What do you mean, Holland?  I signed up for Italy!  I’m supposed to be in Italy.  All my life I’ve dreamed of going to Italy.”  But there’s been a change in the flight plan.  They’ve landed in Holland and there you must stay.

The important thing is that they haven’t taken you to a horrible, disgusting, filthy place, full of pestilence, famine and disease.  It’s just a different place.  So you must go out and buy new guidebooks.  And you must learn a whole new language.  And you will meet whole new groups of people you would never have met.  It’s just a different place.  It’s slower-paced than Italy, less flashy than Italy.  But after you’ve been there for awhile and you can catch your breath, you look around and you begin to notice that Holland has windmills, Holland has tulips.  Holland even has Rembrandts.

But everyone you know is busy coming and going from Italy, and they’re all bragging about what a wonderful time they had there.  And for the rest of your life, you will say, “Yes, that’s where I was supposed to go.  That’s what I planned.” 

And the pain of that will never, ever, ever go away, because the loss of that dream is a very significant loss.

But if you spend your life mourning the fact that you didn’t get to Italy, you may never be free to enjoy the very special, the very lovely things about Holland.
By Emily Kingsley