Tag Archives: parenting

Learned Helplessness

Carol Dweck’s book ‘Mindset’ is on my mind again.

How do we develop a sense of self worth in our children?

If we praise children predominantly for who they are, rather than what they do, what do they learn?

If we tell a child, “You are so clever,” when she comes home with an A on a test, or shows us a beautifully executed drawing of the street where she lives, what does she learn? She is coming to believe that she is worthy simply because she is told so.

If instead we say, “I know you studied very hard for that test, well done”, or “I see you used what you learned about perspective in that drawing. It’s great”, what is she learning that is different? She is learning that effort is of great worth.

If we praise children simply for being, they come to believe that their self worth lies in the opinions of others. 

This can be disturbingly disempowering.

Let’s follow the possible repercussions of believing that I am a valuable, worthwhile person because other people (my parents) tell me that I am, regardless of what I do.

My goal as I grow up and go into the world will be to ensure that I mix with people who think well of me, regardless of what I do because my sense of self worth rests in the opinions of others.

This may mean that I will prefer to associate with people who think even less of themselves than they do of me, so that I can always seem more worthy by comparison.

It is much easier to look like a high flyer when you travel with a low flying flock.

This is a recipe for disaster.

If we want our children to challenge themselves, to seek out the best the world has to offer then we need to ensure that we praise them for what they do.

Then they will come to believe that their worth lies in their own hands, in what they choose to do with their lives.

Unconditional love is not the same thing as unconditional praise.

We love our children unconditionally, but we praise them for what they do.

Love me for who I am.

Praise me for what I do.

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Let’s hear it for the tiger mothers!

tiger-cub_1714112iIf you ask any young mother who is the most important child in the world to her, she will reply, “mine”. We would expect nothing different. This feeling doesn’t change when the child turns five and goes to school. Every loved and wanted child is the centre of his or her parent’s world. Pity the child who isn’t.

And so it seems odd when a teacher complains, “She thinks her child is the most important child in my classroom”.

Of course she does, and the sooner you acknowledge this, the sooner you will be able to set up a productive relationship between teacher and parent.

No parent sees a class full of children from the same point of view as the teacher. Good teachers strive to ensure that each child is treated as one among equals.

But no parents view their son or daughter as simply ‘one among equals’.

As a principal I have dealt with many an irate parent in my office. Sometimes their sense of outrage has seemed totally unreasonable from my viewpoint, where their child is simply ‘one among equals’. But it’s this sense of my child being the centre of the universe that leads parents to cry ‘unfair’ and demand to know, “what are you doing to punish the other kid?”

It’s easier to deal with the Tiger Mothers who look as if they might leap across your desk and tear your throat out at any minute, if we understand why they feel like that. They are protecting their young, the centre of their universe, the most precious thing in their lives, at a time when they feel their cub might be under threat.

Give me a Tiger Mother any day rather than the disinterested, unengaged parents who never walk through the school door or pick up the phone and dial the school’s number.

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