Tag Archives: Good Job

The Tyranny of Saying, “Be Careful”: Parenting Without Borders, Part 5

In the Introduction, we broached the idea that the way other cultures parent might be more “right” than the way that the culture in North America parents, as discussed in the book Parenting Without Borders. In Part 1, we looked at some of the different cultural thoughts around sleep. There was also that stunning example of how it’s normal for babies in Scandinavia to be found taking a nap on the terrace in the dead of winter! In Part 2, we explored “stuff” and how having more of it might not be best for our children. In Part 3, we looked at how different cultures relate to food in the context of parenting. In Part 4, we looked at how saying “good job” to our little ones might not have the effect we think it does. In Part 5, we’ll look at hoverparenting and self-control.

I suspect that if you’ve read any of the previous posts in this series (and are a parent), you probably took issue with some of the things espoused and if by some miracle you didn’t, I’d be very surprised if at the end of today’s post, you haven’t taken issue with something.

Hoverparenting is everywhere. Heck, you don’t need to take it from me — there was a whole book on the subject written a couple of years ago: “The Overparenting Epidemic: Why Helicopter Parenting Is Bad for Your Kids . . . and Dangerous for You, Too!” I’m not going to get into any of the details in that book (truth be told, I haven’t read it), but I suspect that the idea of hoverparenting isn’t foreign to you and you’ve probably heard, to some degree, how it isn’t good. Here’s Gross-Loh:

If we take over tasks our children could be doing, even if they are kind of stressful or a challenge, when we are over-involved and do not allow a child his own autonomy, we can make a child anxious by giving him the message that he isn’t capable of doing things himself. We orient our children to ourselves, instead of to their own growth and accomplishments.

That last sentence is key — we orient children to us, rather than themselves.

I’ve mentioned before how great it is that this book sheds light on other culture’s perspectives on a given topic, but this one is particularly interesting. For instance, did you know that in Japan, it’s normal for kids to hit each other? Well, I might be stretching the usage of the word normal, but:

In Japenese yochiens, skirmishes between children weren’t nipped in the bud by adults; rather, kindergarten was regarded as a time — the time — in life for kids to experiment socially in a fully engaged, unhindered way; not only to play but also to fight and to cry.

[…]

Teachers didn’t see aggression as a sign of aberrant behavior or the mark of a “problem child” who would grow into a violent adult, but something normal that arose in childhood and would naturally fade when it had been allowed to run its course.

Whoa. Can you imagine the vitriol that would be directed at you, as a parent, if you took your kid to the playground and allowed your kid to hit the other kids?

Don’t get me wrong, I think there’s so much merit to this idea. Of course it makes sense that kids are still trying to learn about how to relate to the natural world around them and if they don’t have the language to express themselves, physical aggression (rather than verbal aggression) might be a strategy that is put into place.

Circling back to the “Japanese way,” it seems that there’s more to it than simply a parenting strategy of letting the aggression run its course. There’s the idea that kids are still tied to the spiritual world and are too young for discipline. Parents don’t want to push their way into their children’s experiences of joy, either.

You might be wondering about how Japanese kids turn out to be when parented in this manner. Well:

One study compared American and Japanese 4th and 5th graders and their thoughts on hitting, fighting, talking badly about someone, or spreading rumors. 92% of the American children talked about not wanting to get caught, or not wanting to get in trouble with a teacher or parent. 90% of Japanese children, on the other hand, did not talk about the punishment or getting in trouble. They said they shouldn’t misbehave because it would hurt a friend’s feelings, it would be wrong, it would hurt they group.

Whoa. I gotta be honest — when I first read through this chapter, I had to check myself a number of times because of how unexpected some of the results were. So, as parents, what can we do? How can we help our little ones turn out like the Japanese 4th and 5th graders?

The most important principle was that teachers should be constantly attentive and aware of what’s going on, but hold themselves back from getting involved too soon. If they see trouble brewing — two kids who were starting to fight with each other — they try not to react immediately. You had to give them that moment and sit on your own discomfort or desire to rescue the child from the situation.

[…]

Being too involved deprives the kids of experiencing the good feelings that come only from mastering the situation on their own.

And that’s it, in a nutshell, isn’t it? If we think about the juxtaposition of the two culture’s parenting styles, the hoverparenting found in America doesn’t allow kids the chance to master new situations. Parents are always there trying to direct the learning or direct the play. On the flip side, in Japan, there’s space given to the kids, so that they can figure out how to interact and relate to the world around them.

Another great example of this — how many times do you hear parents say, “Be careful,” or “slow down.” Sure, parents have their kids’ safety at heart, but how can they learn the consequences of their actions, if they never experience the consequences of not being careful or not slowing down (I’m not advocating we let our little ones run into traffic, here). Whenever I hear parents utter these words, I cringe (I also cringe when I hear “Good job“). How does telling a little person, “be careful” help them, unless you’ve had a conversation around the inherent ambiguity of the word “careful.”

A short personal example: this past winter, as the snow began to melt, it rained and a layer of ice formed on the snow at a nearby park. When my son and I went to the park, I knew that there was a 100% chance that he was going to slip and fall on the ice. Instead of me telling him to “be careful” as he strode out onto the ice, I watched and let him slip — a number of times. After letting this happen a little bit, I walked over to him and talked to him about what it was like to walk on the snow versus what it was like to walk on the ice. We talked about having to walk more deliberately on the ice because of the lack of friction between our boots and the ice (yes, I talked about friction!). And wouldn’t you know it, after a few times of doing this, there was a noticeable difference in the way that he walked on the ice versus the snow.

The Tyranny of Saying “Good Job”: Parenting Without Borders, Part 4

In the Introduction, we broached the idea that the way other cultures parent might be more “right” than the way that the culture in North America parents, as discussed in the book Parenting Without Borders. In Part 1, we looked at some of the different cultural thoughts around sleep. There was also that stunning example of how it’s normal for babies in Scandinavia to be found taking a nap on the terrace in the dead of winter! In Part 2, we explored “stuff” and how having more of it might not be best for our children. In Part 3, we looked at how different cultures relate to food in the context of parenting. In Part 4, we’ll take a closer look at self-esteem in the context of parenting.

If you have kids or you’ve been around kids, I feel pretty confident in making the assumption that when your kid (or the kids you happen to be around at the time) do/does something well, you almost reflexively say, “Good job!” Of course, though — why wouldn’t we? We notice someone doing something well and we want to praise that, right? Well, it turns out that this might not be the optimal way of interacting with our little ones:

It turns out that when parents and educators send children the message that their needs and their individual happiness and dreams are more important than other things, like being a compassionate, ethical, hard-working person, it makes them unhappy.

I think that we can all agree that it’s probably a good idea that our children grow up to be compassionate, ethical, and hard-working, right? Not to mention, happy. It appears that somewhere along the way, parents got the idea that the best way to achieve these ends were to focus on a child’s self-esteem by telling him how good they are. As it happens, this may have been a perversion of the initial way of thinking about parenting and self-esteem:

But the earliest proponents of raising self-esteem to ensure children have a successful, productive future actually believed this could be done best through a child-rearing style that employed clear rules and limits. Research backs this up: it is parents who allow children freedom and independence within clearly set guidelines, while treating children with respect and love (as opposed to being top-down dictators) who tend to raise confident adults.

One of the best parts about the book Parenting Without Borders is that it give the reader a flavour of different cultures. And when it comes to this chapter, that’s very helpful. In North America, we’re used to focusing on individual happiness and to instill that in our kids, we often tell them how well they’re doing. This has the effect of kids thinking that they’re great. You might expect a child raised in North America to say, “I’m awesome!” If an American kid were to ask a Japanese kid how to say, “I’m awesome,” in Japanese, the Japanese kid would be dumbfounded, as this isn’t something that a Japanese kid would even think to say. Consider this:

Students reflect frequently, especially after a big event, like the annual sports day, or a field trip, or a class presentation, but also after more ordinary moments. On many class handouts our kids received at school, there was a space to write down, “what I can do better next time; what I’ll try to work harder on next time.” Children are taught the habit of always remaining attentive to how they can improve. (By contrast, children in our country are typically asked to reflect on what they did well.)

There’s even a word for this process of self-reflection in Japanese: hansei. How great that at such a young age, kids are learning how to reflect on their process. It’s almost like taking the scientific method and reappropriating it. Can you imagine how different American culture would be if every kid in America were taught to think about how they could have done better on an assignment rather than being giving the customary, “Good job, let’s go out for ice cream,” speech.

Now, I understand that some parents will balk at the idea of not telling their kid how well they’re doing and that’s not what I’m saying (nor is it what the author is saying). However, it’s important to consider the ramifications of our decisions to praise our kids, especially as it relates to labels that they then have to live up to:

A child who is told he is very smart, will begin to define himself through this label. While this sounds like it would be a good thing, even so-called positive labels can be harmful when they give a child a fixed view of himself, since it is a view he must protect.

[…]

 

What a lot of parents don’t see is what happens when we boost our kids too much. If we let “making kids feel good” be our guiding principle, we are buying short-term goodwill at the expense of their future resilience.

In this way, telling our kids that they are smart isn’t so much a nice thing to do as it is a curse. Telling them how smart they are might handcuff them to this label that they have to continually live up to. Not that we want to handcuff our children to labels, but might it better for them and for others if we handcuff them to labels that have them perpetuate actions of compassion and ethics?

Maybe it’s as Gross-Loh alludes to that telling kids how smart they are has more to do with how we feel. Maybe telling our kids they’re smart has to do with us wanting our kids to like us. Gross-Loh has certainly given us a lot to think about in this chapter, but before I close this post, I wanted to leave you with something else that can be done. That is, instead of telling our kids, “Good job,” what else can we say?

Dweck’s research shows, a good parent doesn’t undermine her child’s motivation through empty praise and encouragement. She scaffolds her child’s ability to face challenges and even accept failure as something that anyone can grow from.

So, instead of focusing on the outcomes and the end goal, maybe it might be better if we focus on the effort and the steps that our children take to get from A to Z.