Guess who’s freaking out.

(if you had to ask who, get off this blog :P)

I was just on the MSN homepage taking a peak at the parenting section which I like to do every now and then seeing as I keep a journal of what I think my parents did well and not so well (and I think they are the best parents in the world, but everyone makes mistakes) because I want to be the best parent I can for my kids… Because I want kids. I’m 16 and I’ll say that- besides, knowing what irritated me at the age of 16 might help me not to irritate my kids, right? Cause we all know teachers and parents throw around that excuse, “I was a kid once, too, you know” to get us to emphasise with them but we don’t by it because… well when was the last time they were a kid? And we forget half of last years syllabus so we can only know how much they’ve forgotten or how much has changed about being a kid/ teen in the past 10-30 years. (you know I’ve often wondered if I should make this a parenting blog to get teens active with communicating with there parents… but I can’t stick to a theme so its an everything blog as you’ve probably realised)

Anywho, so I was looking to see if there was anything interesting, you know? Anything I might want to make note of.

AND LOOK AT WHAT I FOUND: “Why you shouldn’t tell your kids they’re smart”

article: http://www.embracethechaos.ca/2011/02/reform-your-praise-junkie-ways.html

You can probably understand why this has caught my eye- especially after my recently having written about my own insecurities about compliments and let me tell you Ms. Waverman, I think, sincerely and honestly and as nicely as I can possibly say this I am trying; that you are wrong. Simple as that.

Somebody please correct me if you think telling your kids that they are intelligent is a bad thing?

Let me explain. Emma Waverman here states that by telling your kids that they are smart, you are setting them up to only want to appear as smart. And  are going to raise them to be a ‘praise junkie’ and so on. She draws a parallel to children’s art and claims you shouldn’t say its beautiful but instead, INSTEAD what you should say is “”Wow, what a picture! I can see how hard you worked on the drawing five fingers on that person” and maybe you aren’t aware of something but, kids DO know the difference between praise and condescending tone. If someone had said that to me I would have been reduced to a sniveling inconsolable heap, unable to understand why I was being approached in this negative way!  By telling your child this, you are basically telling your child “Good Job! You are an idiot, but you know what? You managed to notice how many fingers you have!”

Don’t get me wrong and let me further explain. At my school, for the past few years one of the art projects for the grade 9 class was to draw a picture of their hands… a study of hands. Because they are great for proportions like that your middle finger is the same length as your palm. They start off looking at said proportions, doing traces, looking at different gestures and shapes and their connotations, and then, at the end of 2 months or so produce a finished compositional piece with a story to it and everything. When I did mine, it was of a person holding a lighter at a Rolling Stones concert  reminicent of when my father took us kids to see them at Madison Square Garden when my sister and I were 7 years old (yes, he’s a good dad. We wore heavy dutty earplugs he put in us himself- don’t worry. Oh and I’m a violin player and have the sharpest ears of the family- beyond normal for any human and none of us have hearing loss so they obviously know what they are doing).

Anyways thats a tangent and my point is, there were kids then, grade 9. Jr. High students, who drew their final pieces with 7 fingers on one hand, and 4 fingers on the other. This was a piano player who drew their piece of a piano player. If they had drawn something as a child, with the wrong number of fingers and someone said THAT to them I would feel, quite honestly, like shit!

Let me tell you something. When a child seeks praise, why is it?

1. They want the attention.

2. The genuinely think they are good at something and want validation. They want to make sure its not just imagining it.

Lets look evaluate both cases.

In the first scenario, you aren’t giving them attention, causing them to try and attract it through unhealthy means and will lead to, not a praise junkie, but bully and class disturber in the making.  When a child comes running to you just having finished a drawing it doesn’t mean all they want is praise! Especially if the child drew this for you, which most often is the case, you shouldn’t be approaching them with a condescending tone, or treating them like they ‘tried their best’ which, frankly, is synonymous with “you worked hard, but its still not that good” which can be immeasurably detrimental if they actually think its good.

Anyways, the art topic is just too deep and I don’t want to get stuck just on that because there is so much more to this.  The second alternative she gave was to say “There is a lot of stuff going on, tell me about your picture!” And as a baby sitter I can honestly say I’ve used this line a lot. Because with younger kids who haven’t perfected fine motor skills yet, they simply can’t control the marker not that they’re a bad artist. It comes with time. Even the most languidly stepping ballerina once stumbled about as a toddler. Now, when a kid has drawn something, and you can’t exactly figure it out, compliment them, yes! Because if you just say something like “wow thats interesting” they know something’s wrong.  Say that you like the colours they chose, or a certain line. When they start to tell you about what they drew, engage in conversation- this much Waverman got right- but treat them as an adult. You would talk to an adult about their work of art (be it written, lyrical, visual or musical) so you want to talk to them. Becasue they draw everything for a reason. Even colour choice is specific. Why do you think kids rarely draw in black and white? Because they are so much more in touch with the connotations, or at least their personal connotations, to colours. Each aspect is significant so when you are asking them what their drawing is of, they tell you the story to it. I know a five year old, for example who loves the Shrek series and, more recently, Gnomeo and Juliet and Tangled. I watch her and her neighbour every morning while their parents get ready for work. for about half an hour, and seeing as their dad is the art teacher at my school, they normally draw. She often draws a scene from one of these movies and will explain everything about it, down to the bow in the hair. Detail wise she is amaizing and I can normally get it right what shes talking about. OUr other neighbour though- not so much. As a boy he tends to draw spiderman (I even did his facepaint as spiderman for halloween), aliens, monsters, or spaceships. I feign fright at his aliens and mosters and tell him how I want a trip on his spaceship. Sometimes though, amidst the scribbles its hard to see what he’s chosen that day. So I ask, using the line mentions or some variant. And I figure out, once hes told me whats going on and I can tell him what I like. That the bright yellow of the alien looks like it would glow in the dark, and that I think that is what has been under my bed these past few days, or that they 1157th (so he claims there are) eye of the monster is particularly spooky. Never would I tell him that he tried hard- but failed; no matter how backhandedly. Like mature adults they ask me every morning what I think of their Princes or super hero and I reply honestly, because for kids they are pretty good. Though its not them but their parent’s I worry about.

Just before I go on to reiterate what I think about something else let me make one last quote “Notice how the encouragement draws the child into a conversation about their work, and how you actually have to pay attention to the work so you can talk about it? That’s because encouragement is about the child, not about you. It sets up self-motivation, not external motivation.”

How is telling a kid they are smart, about you? While I might agree that when kids reach a certain age they should be able to steam themselves forward, 3 year old, and even 5 year old don’t exactly understand that. They do what they want to do and are the best examples of zen and living in the now that we could look for. They live to please their parents. It isn’t until they reach middle school or grade school at the lowest (and older grades at that) that they can adequately motivate themselves, because frankly how can you expect them to when they don’t even understand the word yet? Anything you want your kid to do, they have to undesrtand. It needs to be a part of their vocabulary. Eat. Sleep. Poop. Get attention. Those are things that are pre-programed into them through evolution. You can’t wipe one of those out and just replace it instantaneously.

Ok. Lets just step back away from my personal views for another second (had about 400 more words written properly explaining this all, but it wasn’t saved when the internet decided to make a software up date). Waverman has another link on her article for those of us who “think telling our kids how inteligent they are is good for them” here it is:http://nymag.com/news/features/27840/index

Now lets look at what his article has to say. It says, and rather clearly too if a teenager can figure it out- that telling your kids how smart they are is bad for them. What has Waverman interpreted this onto? Complimenting and praising your kids is bad for them. Does no one else see the difference?

And again I want to stress the tried and true saying “Everything in moderation” Praise your child on a good mark in a test. Tell them that a straight A report card is good. Because what happens if you dont? They try and over achieve and burn out. If you get straight A’s and no one seems to think its any good but you think it is, what does that do to you? It demoralizes you. When you’ve put all your effort into something and you get a good result and Your parents take Ms. Waverman’s advice and implies that their best isn’t good enough… I’ll be surprised if the amount of kids being found running away from home increases.

Ms. Waverman claims she is able to justify her views because she is a praise junkie.

Shall I tell you my story?

Most of you know I don’t like getting compliments, because I feel they are insincere most of the time. Why? Because I got them often. Not that they were bad, because I was generally pretty good at things.  Like the kid in Ms. Waverman’s link- Thomas, I’m a horrible speller (I thank whoever invented spell checkers) and though spelling tests were always a source of embarrassment for me, I tried really hard on them- and got negative results. So when my mother would be working with my on my spelling list when I was in grade school, and I was getting every word wrong, every night, she would try to encourage me. And I worked on them. Everynight. When I managed to get one right, that I had gotten repeatedly wrong during the week, she would praise me. Not on the overall poor mark, but on that specific word and achievement. Like Thomas I achieved far beyond average scores, embarrassingly beyond averages scores, on standardized tests like the sats (not the American SAT’s) that I would refuse to tell my siblings. Even try to hide it from my parents, because I didn’t want to be a source of attention or a source of comparison for my siblings. You can’t compare us. One of us is a musical genius, the other a sports god, my sister is- well the radiant, beautiful, dancer and socialite, and I’m me. For a long time it seemed I was only good at school- when I started doing my brother’s maths hw with them at the age of  5 despite that they were 3 and 4 years older than me.

I never found what I was really good at. And you might ask how that can be, when it seems I’m smart. lets look at Thomas again. His praise on intelligence led him to not want to try at anything he wasn’t good at.  He gave up on spelling, and I, who was just like him didn’t. Because I had positive reinforcement from my parents- not just praise, but praise on improvements, not things I was naturally good at so that the difference was made and the emphasise put on the effort.

Ex? I was really bad at running. Always loosing when the four of us raced. So I started to run every chance I got. What happened? I became a good sprinter. Not soo good at long distance and I would have to drop out of a race after about 5 minutes (but thats because I couldn’t understand not putting my all in it). But I still was a great runner.

I had an awful experience nearly drowning in a big wave one vacation in North Carolina. I started swimming more than just playing at the pool doing laps and coming up with games with my sister that would involve the most swimming.  Rather than never going to the beach again and now I want to be a marine biologist (yeah, go ahead and think I’m crazy. Half the world does).

I got 16 out of 30 on some new standardized test they came up with in New York state when I was in third grade. The test tracked progress over the year and took info from 3 separate tests. The second one I was up to 20/30 and guess what I got on the last? 30/30. Yeah, I remember my fear over those tests. Spelling was a big part of them and the rest was basic English such as  big:small::large:little… I can’t remember what these exercises are called any more. But I still had a phenomenal development and spent a phenomenal amount of time working on them.

I used to think I was horrible at art because I had an Irish art teacher (not that its important, I just remember that she was Irish) who picked favourites with a girl who used to bully me. She drew really good cartoons, but everything she did was anime. I put effort in. I did tone and shadding and cross hatching before this girl even knew they existed. I remember trying so hard and the teacher would just turn to me saying that it was wrong and I needed to go back and do it again, when I didn’t even- hadn’t even been told- what was wrong. Instead she would hold up a white, line drawing of a girl with bubly eyes saying it was superb, tell the rest of us to use tone and such, when her example hadn’t even done it. What happened? I ws disheartened and ready to give up art the first chance I got. (I still hadn’t found what I was good at) Two years later, right before I was about to give up, I found my saint. A new teacher at school who was praising me from the moment I did my mock ‘artistic scrawl’ of my name across my folder in cursive… (Oh yeah, and I have horrible penmanship- something I thought was a downfall until I read an article which claimed that a messy hand indicates a creative mind- though thats worrysome for the scientist in me :P). He then continued to praise what I had been doing the previous years with no explanation as to what was wrong- and I learnt I wasn’t the one that was wrong. So I wasn’t crazy and I was drawing shadow. I was drawing proportions and perception. I was an artist. Now I’m taking art as a GCSE subject.

But thats not the only place where my eagerness to succeed has kept me going- against all odds it seems- into trying new things. Things I wasn’t initially good at. Waverman says that kids who recieve praise give up once they aren’t good at something? What about me and trampoline? and other sports? And dance? I’ll say it. I’m pretty good at most sports. I might not be the fastest runner due to my short legs. I might not last the longest. I might not have the most homeruns… but my technique is solid and I’m  pretty good at them anyways. Hence I’m often an example. Hence I’m actually teaching trampoline to the younger grades.

I only just recently did my first flips completely alone (without someone there to turn me if I was too slow or kipping me) But my technique in all of it is good and I understand how to do the skills like seat drops and so I’m trusted to teach five, six, seven year olds. I’m not teaching them to do flips. I never would trust myself with that. But I show them how to do pikes, straddles, seat drops and half twists. I explain to them so they understand. And let me tell you, every one of them can do each skill now. Even after just our first lesson I can notice a difference. I can notice they jump higher, more sure. And let me tell you something else. I praise them. I sometimes ask a younger girl to show me a seat drop or a pike and she will tell me she doesn’t remember. I show her, or explain to her, which the jump is, and she does it. Some times we have to work on it for a while, doing the same skill for five, 8, 10 tries until they do it perfectly because they are  young and don’t have all the motor skills yet, but by the time they are my age they will be unbelievable. And I tell them that when they get fed up, unable to do what I’ve told them. When they get it right, I praise the,m. Tel them to remember what it felt like. The way their body was, the way their muscles worked. When next they get on the tramp and they have a harder time with a move they mastered the week before I tell them remember that. Remember what it felt like? remember what I told you? Corrections and praise. And they remember- because I remember- and if they don’t- I’ve remind them. And they remember it and they do it. And I praise them again and the next week they don’t make the same mistake.

Oh- and trampoline isn’t something I’m naturally good at (though ballet has helped it)

So.

I’m a kid. (practically still)

And if you don’t think I am- I was just 6 years ago.

And if thats not enough. I’m teaching them and I’m seeing results and I’m with them every day, and working with them.

Oh and I just remembered something I wanted to write- I still haven’t found my talent. I think writing might be it, or else scuba diving.

Oh and another thing I just remembered that I hadn’t been able fit earlier. Why it was that I didn’t like compliments? I think I’ve figured out my real problem and it brings me back to my message of Everything in moderation All around me, when I changed school and met kids with their parents for the first time, there were parents who sugarcoated their children lives. Who would say that they were brilliant genii. Great athletes. Great Dancers. Great artists. Would you believe most of them weren’t? I couldn’t believe that people who could speak so passionately and so effortlessly about their childrens’ A plus reports could have children who didn’t get a single A and who were benched at the soccer games or so on. I wondered, when my parents told me they were proud, or when I over heard them at a dinner party saying that I was intelligent, or so on or so on- that they were just like any other parent. Showing me off. I didn’t like the idea of being showed off even if I was (I think I had an aunt who told me continuously when I was little that we would make great trophy wives…).  I love my parents, and I’m coming to terms with- though with difficulty- that I am not just average with certain things (and this blog has greatly helped with the writing- though I still think that I’m not that good at writing reply’s :P)

SOOOO Prais your kids on their effort- thats the best form of encouragement. Make sure they understand that they are good at something that they are good at. Don’t tell them that they are stars- or you are setting them up for deflating.  Help them to improve- encourage them to step outside their comfort zones.

But take your own instincts and logic when you raise your kids. At the end of the day- they are your kids and no one can tell you how to raise them properly.

And I spent 2 hours writing this- so appreciate it.

AND REMEMBER- EVERYTHING IN MODERATION!

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