That parents should praise a kid’s actions rather than her innate
qualities is parenting gospel. Studies find that children who are lauded
for their intelligence develop weaker work ethics
than those who get cheered on for their persistence. The same logic
would seem to apply for instilling morality in kids: Praise your child
for her good deeds, and she will continue to do them. Except, as Adam
Grant wrote in the New York Times this past weekend, it doesn't exactly work like that.
Grant explains why treating your child like an ethical person is more
inspiring than just singling out a praiseworthy bit of behavior: “When
our actions become a reflection of our character," he writes, "we lean
more heavily toward the moral and generous choices.” We want to believe
we do good because we are good, and hearing our goodness affirmed motivates us to keep up the good work (literally).
Grant cites a study in which 7- and 8-year-olds were doused in
different types of praise. After donating some of the marbles they’d won
in a game to poorer children, half of the participating kids were told:
“It was good that you gave some of your marbles to those poor children.
Yes, that was a nice and helpful thing to do.” The other half heard: “I
guess you’re the kind of person who likes to help others whenever you
can. Yes, you are a very nice and helpful person.”
A couple of weeks later, when faced with more opportunities
to give and share, the children were much more generous after their
character had been praised than after their actions had been. Praising
their character helped them internalize it as part of their identities.
The children learned who they were from observing their own actions.
Last time I wrote about kids and praise,
I quoted from a Nietzsche essay (which I had not read. I guess I am the
type of person who quotes essays she hasn't read): “Some are made
modest by great praise, others insolent.” The quote was relevant because
it underscored that kudos can have varying effects depending on the
characteristics of the people receiving them. (I wish the latest New York Times piece had addressed this issue.) Now, I get to quote a Nietzsche essay I have read: In On the Genealogy of Morals,
the philosopher posits that there is no real difference between “being”
and “doing,” between “the lightning and the flash.” And that’s sort of
the theory Grant is unfurling here: that generous deeds turn you into a
generous person; we are all the sum of our behaviors. (When Grant writes
that “the children learned who they were from observing their own
actions,” he’s challenging the idea that you can so neatly separate your
kid’s intimate core from how he operates in the world.)
And yet sometimes that separation is crucial. When it comes to discouraging bad
behavior, Grant says, kids respond much better to feedback that
stresses 1) sadness at the action and 2) confidence in the worthy
intentions of the kid. The point is to create feelings of guilt (“I have
done a bad thing”) rather than shame (“I am a bad person”) because
guilt prompts amending behavior, whereas shame just makes people hide or
In a way, criticism that invokes a kid’s inner nature boomerangs for
the same reason that praising her intelligence can: A parent’s
estimation of character becomes a prison sentence. For children
constantly told they are smart, the pressure of living up to that
epithet looms large. Depending on how confident the kid is, the weight
of the prophecy sometimes outweighs the thrill of getting complimented.
Meanwhile, for children led to believe they harbor secret moral flaws,
it’s easier to retreat or throw a tantrum than to fight the “truth.”
It may seem like a lot for parents to keep track of: Praise what they
do, not who they are, unless we're talking about morals, and then
praise who they are, unless they are being bad, then point out what
they've done wrong, but don't shame. Of course, there are other, more
straightforward ways to foster compassion in the youth, though they
require more from us olds than deploying the correct, carefully spun
phrase. Grant describes a famous 1975 experiment
in which 140 school-age children received prizes that they could either
keep for themselves or donate to poorer kids. Before they decided,
though, the students observed their teacher navigate a similar dilemma
with her own prize. Next, the teacher lectured the kids on “the value of
taking, giving, or neither.”
By the time the students had to decide whether to act selfishly or
generously, they were weighing the adult’s example, the adult’s verbal
sermon, and their own codes and preferences. In this alloy of
influences, Grant says, the grown-up behavior mattered most: Regardless
of what the teacher preached, students who saw the adults act generously
were generous themselves. Whether or not it is distinct from its flash,
apparently lightning likes to learn by example.
Joined: Feb 19 2008
Location: in God's hand
Posted: Apr 15 2014 at 7:21pm
I praise my daughter daily and try to live by example . Perfect day for your topic tatee after i thought about lossing it on a white racist teacher , but i would never do that in front of my child . I filed a complaint with the district for actions while my daughter stood in tears ..
Why would ask a parent , "why are you looking at me like that in a nasty way" ? We have a congested crazy parking lot . I was looking back at my baby and the other children . God saved her from mrs India dragging her out the window she roll down to disrespect me for no reason . She better ask somebody . A little girl died yersterday ,after she ran back to mother car and a parent hit her in another school .
Joined: Oct 01 2004
Posted: Apr 15 2014 at 7:45pm
Great article tatee...
I hate seeing parent cussing out their kids. Today at my son's baseball game, my mom had to walk over to the young mother touched her gently on the shoulder and spoke with her away from the crowd to tell her she needed to calm and stop cussing at her baby like she a stranger on the street. It's embarrassing not only for your child to have their mom clowning then in public but as a young mother with so much profanity.
I love my mom for being one of those women who speaks up to parents.
Joined: Feb 19 2008
Location: in God's hand
Posted: Apr 15 2014 at 7:46pm
Oh my India.... did the teachers not pay attention to her running off....
Yes, I kiss my kids daily and tell them I love them. Yes, I've learned instead of showing my ass I have to put the other white people in ya life.
I am not sure , but parents do it all the time . Many will drop a 5 year old off with the back door open until someone yells . I am so afraid to park on that lot . On my days at the hospital i stay with my daughter until the bell rings .
We have 2 crossing guards in the morning that are at least 70 years of age and PV in the afternoon . I park down the street and walk in the evening . I warn the principle many times . Praying the little girl death will be a a wake up call . Parents kick the kids out in the middle of the street . I calles the police several times . smh
Canton police say a 9-year-old was struck by a vehicle and killed outside of Eriksson Elementary School in Canton on Monday morning.
Investigators say the girl may have tried to get back into her car as it was pulling away and was struck.
She was transported to a local hospital where she later died.
Police are asking anyone who saw the accident to call the department at 734.394.5449.
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