With school starting this week our focus as parents has shifted from vacations to school supplies and regular schedules again. I’m noticing a trend in the way the Love and Logic people talk about school that I wanted to share with you.
It involves another shift in focus…from success or praise to the process or the effort expended. For years we have been encouraged to say things to our children to keep their self-concept high. Praise was encouraged so that our kids would know that we thought highly of them. We found ourselves walking around behind our children saying things like, “Way to go!” or “That was awesome.”
We created a different problem with our constant praise. We caused our children to think so highly of themselves that they couldn’t do any wrong. If they are awesome at the core, doesn’t that make their bad choices awesome too? Not only was our praise sometimes applied to the wrong thing, it also became addictive. Sometimes our children were tempted to bend the rules to make sure they appeared to be doing well whether they were struggling or not. In order to continue receiving the praise, they had to be perfect.
Big mistake. Our children can’t be perfect any more than we can be perfect.
Emphasizing their effort rather than the outcome has better odds of producing the outcome we both want. When we see success in our kids we are better off asking, “How did you do that?” to focus on their effort rather than their smarts.
They will probably say, “I don’t know,” if we have been using praise a lot. Dr. Fay suggests moving the focus back to their efforts by asking, “Did you work hard or did you keep trying?” This will establish a link between their good outcomes and the process toward these outcomes…hard work.
By emphasizing the effort, we encourage practice instead of winning the game. Practice wins games—not every time but more often. Emphasizing winning the game leaves us with a success or failure dilemma instead of shifting the focus to practice as success, which is always a win. We can control our practice time better than we can control our won/loss record.
Thank your child for noticing a chore that needed to be done and doing it. Instead of saying, “You are awesome,” try shift the focus to their efforts by saying, “I appreciate you noticing and helping all on your own.” As grades begin to arrive, rather than praising the good grades and punishing the bad ones, focus on the effort to make the grade instead. Try saying, “You must have worked really hard for this,” and discuss how the lower grades can sometimes reflect hard work also. This emphasis removes the success vs. failure mentality and focuses on the means to success instead.
Focusing on effort doesn’t mean our children aren’t awesome, it just means the path to awesome isn’t our praise, it is their own hard work and persistence. Compliment what you hope will continue. Shifting your focus from praise to effort will likely accomplish both!