Saturday, November 3, 2012

Nurture Shock and Praise!

I should state a few things at the outset:

1. Go read Nurture Shock.  It's at least thought-provoking and interesting, and at most it's phenomenally helpful.
2. I grew up in a time when SELF ESTEEM was king and pushed by everyone, all the time.
3. I also grew up with child development expert adults in my life so I got far more self-esteem boosting than the average human.
4. In career 1.0 I studied child development and had great instructors so I'd read much of the primary literature the book refers to previously.
5. I grew up in an area with lots of fundamentalist-types and was considered something of a heathen by my friends' parents, so I attended an awful lot of events designed to convert me, most of them featuring PRAISE! songs.  I felt these activities were mostly informational although I picked up a love of shouting PRAISE! very loudly, so imagine me doing that throughout this post.

I feel like there may be a plethora of posts forthcoming from this book because I loved it.  PRAISE! is the thing we've implemented in our child-rearing already though.

Very early in her life we realized that saying, "You're so pretty! So adorable! What a pretty dress!" all the time was a bad idea.  Apparently the kid is absurdly cute so everyone else told her all that stuff.  We didn't have to say a word.  She also looks nothing like me, so it's comforting or horrifying that she's accused of the cuteness all the time as it reflects on me.

But then we heard about this PRAISE! study and we started to try to quit saying that she's smart or doing a good job.  I'd say that now, maybe 3 years into the "no unwarranted praise" project, we do fairly well at praising effort over doing something.  I think it is helpful but the kid is pretty shy and probably could use some self-esteem boosting.  Maybe it's a phase.  She's a slow adjuster so praising effort is important for her in particular because her efforts take FOREVER and she needs encouraging just to FINISH something in a timely manner.

We also don't talk about how smart she is much, but everyone else does, so I'm not sure what to do with that.  Yep, she seems to have a big vocabulary compared to other kids her age.  Yep, she uses that vocabulary very widely and comes up with some astounding things to say and is highly observant (like the pumpkin carving of me with the eyebrows that come together in the middle that she had a great explanation about).  I don't know if that's remarkable.  I know about bigger kids than her, so I don't take for granted that she'll turn out any smarter than the average kid, and I feel no need to tell her she's smart.  I find her inventive, big word moments to be a great chance to talk about what a good job she did figuring it out and that's easier than most scenarios in which it's my habit to say "oh how pretty!" or "what a nice job!"

I should probably talk to her daycare provider about not praising every stinking thing she does because when she's making some art thing at home, she's always asking us if she did a good job, and she must hear that somewhere.

For me myself, also, this is very helpful.  In the entire chapter when the authors discussed what happens when kids get too much PRAISE! for nothing at all, how they are afraid to try something and fail at it and would prefer to stay in their comfort zone and avoid any failure at all, I could see myself.  Look at career 1.0.  I chose something that I was really good at and could do with almost no additional effort on my part, and eventually realized I hated it and couldn't bear to do that every day for the rest of my life.  Here in pre-career 2.0 I am challenged.  It is wicked hard.  I struggle to continue to make an effort at everything rather than avoiding scary stuff completely and I struggle with it every day.  Great job self-esteem cheerleaders! Thanks for that! (end sarcasm)  It's also kind of comforting to me that I didn't make myself this neurotic.  I had help from everyone around me.

Hopefully things will be different for the kid and Little Monster.  More effort and less inherent smartness.


  1. I've wondered about how to deal with this in regards to my daycare provider (and MIL and SIL) as well... obviously you cannot control how everyone speaks to your child, but those are major influences in Stella's life.

  2. I've been thinking a lot about the praise chapter too. D gets a lot of the "you're awesome for being you" praise from family, so I'll make sure we work on praising the effort. I don't shy away from challenge, but I am very risk-averse because I'm afraid to fail, and I think that definitely stems from my childhood.