Thursday, September 27, 2012

You are Not Special

Yes, yes, while I do not yet have children of my own, that does not mean I cannot link an article about how to have successful kids. 

Reading historical novels, it's interesting to note that one upon a time children = free labor. "Good work, Mother! With our eighth son, we can finally plow that stretch of land yonder!"
Or they were exchanged in marriage to bind social ties. The farmers would probably have swapped their daughters for an ox. "'Little cow?' Is that what you call her!"

Thankfully times have changed. With more time on our hands parents have decided to micro-analyze their influence to ensure that their offspring are better versions of themselves. But how to go about that? 

According to the article, be authoritative. Apparently, that's how to motivate. But not by praise before the fact. 
This may seem counterintuitive, but praising children’s talents and abilities seems to rattle their confidence.
Meaning, saying "You're smart" or "You're strong" or "You can beat any other kid single-handedly" is not the way to go. That incites feelings of self-consciousness and pressure. They should be able to tackle a task without worrying that failure could affect their "status." 
The happiest, most successful children have parents who do not do for them what they are capable of doing, or almost capable of doing; and their parents do not do things for them that satisfy their own needs rather than the needs of the child.
One perk of being the youngest is that my parents weren't really aware of my schoolwork. If I had a project, I went about it solo (well, Luke helped from time to time). But when I glued and taped and stapled on my own, I felt so accomplished, way more that the kid who proudly marched in with an obvious "Mommy-Made" diorama. I did it.
Once your child is capable of doing something, congratulate yourself on a job well done and move on. Continued, unnecessary intervention makes your child feel bad about himself (if he’s young) or angry at you (if he’s a teenager).  
The article compares a parent's hands-off method in this regard to when a baby learns to walk. 
You were in thrall to those early attempts and would do everything possible to encourage her to get up again. You certainly didn’t chastise her for failing or utter dire predictions about flipping burgers for the rest of her life if she fell again. You were present, alert and available to guide if necessary. But you didn’t pick her up every time.

You knew she had to get it wrong many times before she could get it right. 
It makes perfect sense that success is found independent from parental intervention. But why do so many meddle?
So if children are able to live with mistakes and even failing, why does it drive us crazy? So many parents have said to me, “I can’t stand to see my child unhappy.”  
Ah. Then it is not about the kid. It is about the mommy. 
If you can’t stand to see your child unhappy, you are in the wrong business. The small challenges that start in infancy (the first whimper that doesn’t bring you running) present the opportunity for “successful failures,” that is, failures your child can live with and grow from. 
Keep in mind this is the opposite of the "Tiger Mom" approach.
As Shmuley Boteach notes, Chua's method does not permit or tolerate failure. At all. Ever. That is not what Madeline Levy advocates. 
When we do things for our children out of our own needs rather than theirs, it forces them to circumvent the most critical task of childhood: to develop a robust sense of self. 
And be sure to practice what you preach. And that you are happy, in general. 


Mighty Garnel Ironheart said...

One has to know one's child.
Me, I was/am lazy so my parents knew that relentless nagging and instilling a permanent fear of failure in me was the only way to get me off my tuchus. Other kids? They love to work so just supplying them stuff to do it enough.
It's about the personal relationship, not some cookbook method.

Princess Lea said...

My dear fellow, my brother and I were the epitome of childhood laziness. What awakened us was not fear of failure (because lazy people are not scared of that) were subjects that piqued our interest. Eventually that snowballed to general academic achievement.

My folks were broken in by the time they came to us, so they didn't harass us that much.

Nechama said...

Thank you - proves as skill I am working on - "Reinforcement is for the weak". Wasn't confident that I fully understood WHY I had to stop dishing out so many compliments, but I knew that it was important. Thanks for filling me in!

Tovah11 said...

Really interesting article. I don't have children so, perhaps, I have no right to answer, but it seems to me that generalizations don't work. This advice needs to be done on a child-child basis.

Princess Lea said...

Of course there are exceptions, but the premise of "everyone is special" = "no one is special."

But with the kids I interact with regularly, this premise certainly has merit.