Getting kid’s praise right

stick_figure_family_portrait_1600_wht_2962For some years now I’ve been an enthusiastic supporter of American psychologist Carol Dweck and her views on child-rearing.

Now the Brits have caught on with media psychologist Professor Tanya Byron and Professor Guy Claxton , together with Mind Gym founder Octavia Black, backing a manifesto to encourage British parers and teachers to adopt Dweck’s ideas. These are set out in a new book ‘Educating Ruby by Claxton & Lucas.

Dweck argues that children:

  • should be praised for hard work rather than innate intelligence
  • should be allowed to make mistakes, which should bed seen as learning opportunities
  • should be allowed to make their own decisions, even if it means failing at the task, so they can become more confident

Her approach may not result in a string of (devalued) A grades but will make the child more resilient and able to solve problems at college and later in life.

It’s reported that British schools are full of anxious and depressed children. Byron says it’s because they re over-tested, force-fed and misunderstood (?). She says she sees children struggling at school ‘to an extent that it severely compromises their mental health and daily functioning’.

Claxton says that universities are seeing increasing numbers of students seeking counselling because they fear being unmasked as an imposter.

‘Imposter syndrome’ is on the increase according to counselling services at Oxford and Cambridge because schools are getting better at force-feeding students into getting the grades they need for university but nor preparing them for real life!

Claxton says ‘don’t rescue your kids, especially girls, too quickly’. Parents tend to see boys as more resilient.

Dweck’s current research is helping children understand that perseverance and effort can help them realise their ambitions.

Another programme helps them to control and regulate their emotions ( key elements in emotional intelligence) so they can put negative experiences into perspective and reduce the likelihood of it leading to negative thoughts.

Raising an emotionally intelligent child

UnknownWhen I came across a reference to this book in the Times Magazine last week I realised I hadn’t posted about emotional intelligence for a while, even though it was one of the earliest topics I wanted to include.

It was only a short column but it made several good points based on John Gottman’s book.

Most people are now aware of emotional intelligence and how it can be developed throughout your life (unlike IQ which is relatively static).

It comprises a number of key skills or competences (depending on which model you follow) but the generic model is four interlinked quadrants which are about:

  1. EImatrixSelf-awareness (knowing how you are feeling)
  2. Awareness of others (including empathy)
  3. Controlling your emotions (self-control)
  4. Managing relationships (social skills)


Gottman suggests parents or carers should:

  1. Listen with empathy Pay close attention to when your child is saying what he feels and mirror it back. Check you have understood and use examples from your own experience to show you have understood.
  2. Help the child to name feelings Encourage your child to build an emotional vocabulary by giving him labels for his feelings. Let him know this is normal to have different feelings about things.
  3. Validate their child’s emotions Don’t say there’s “no need to be upset” when your child gets mad. Acknowledge how natural it is.
  4. Turn tantrums into teaching tools When a child gets upset about something that is going to happen help them prepare for it. Talk to him about why he is scared, what he can expect and why he has to do it.
  5. Use conflict to teach problem-solving When your child is arguing or fighting with another child make it clear there are limits then guide him to a solution. “What else can you do when you get mad?” Guide him some options if necessary. Children need to know it’s OK to be angry but not to hurt people because of that.
  6. Set an example by staying calm Don’t get verbally harsh when you’re angry. You could say “It upsets me when you do that” rather than “You drive me mad!” The child needs to understand it’s his behaviour that upsets you not him. Excessive criticism can undermine a child’s self-confidence.
  7. Stay in touch with their own feelings Don’t ignore your own negative emotions in order to spare your child’s feelings. Hiding your real feelings will confuse your child. Acknowledge that you’re displeased without acting upset to show your child that even difficult feelings can be managed.

Many of these suggestions are based on your being a good role model for your children. 

See earlier posts on emotional intelligence 

Middle-aged men now highest suicide risks

Traditionally it has been young men or teenagers who were at more risk of suicide.

The pattern has changed, perhaps another unwelcome side-effect of the recession, as now it’s middle-aged men aged between 35 and 54 who are more prone to sink into depression and despair.

And if you live in a deprived area or are in the lower socio-economic groups then the problem is even worse with ten times the risk of attempted suicides.

The Samaritans, who commissioned this research, think it’s due to men finding it harder to live up to expectations and getting depressed when they can’t be the provider and protector of their family.

Many middle-aged men hold traditional views on this and compare themselves to a “gold standard” according to Professor Stephen Platt at the University of Edinburgh who led the research.

The experts think that men in this age group aren’t sure whether they should be more like their austere fathers or like their more progressive children. This “toxic aspect of masculinity” is more prevalent among working class men than middle class ones who have more options and find it easier to cope.

They also suffer more than women from marital breakdowns because they don’t have the emotional skills to fall back on that women and younger people have. Some suicides in men are believed to be motivated by the desire to punish their ex-partner, perhaps for restricting access to their children, or an impulsive reaction to their ex starting a new relationship (and tragically we know that sometimes includes harming their children).

Older men account for 50% of the 6,000 suicides each year with men on benefits particularly over-represented. In the middle age group there were three times as many men than women with almost 2,000 men compared to around 600 women. On a more positive note the number of young men committing suicide has fallen in recent years.

The Samaritans report concludes that it’s masculinity that’s to blame; “the way men are brought up to behave and the roles, attributes and behaviours that society expects of them”.

Catherine Bennett in The Observer writing about this issue cites people like  Andrew ‘thrasher” Mitchell , the Tory Chief Whip ( his nickname is not because of his current post but his schoolboy enthusiasm for corporal punishment) and Sir Ralph Fiennes as unhelpful examples of alpha male behaviour

An earlier post dealt with depression which has been on the increase for a while now along with other mental health disorders such as anxiety.

Talk to your children and have a social life

Middle class children benefit from hearing 33 million more words before starting school than children from deprived families who hear 23 million fewer.

This is according to Frank Field the government’s poverty czar. He also claims that by the age of three these children will have heard nearly half a million more positive comments from their parents than children from dysfunctional families.

The US research on which he based his comments found that the amount of talk between a parent and child predicts a child’s future achievements more than class, race or income.

Field believes poor parenting skills damages a child’s prospects by the age of three and that every parent can give their children a good start.

Among his ideas are a “highway code” for parents in which they promise to provide practical and moral support for their children; a “parenting curriculum” at school so that children learn about babies’ brain development in science classes; “rites of passage” such as naming ceremonies for children not being christened; and a formal ceremony attended by the mayor when children move to secondary school.

Some of this is common sense but having to have a highway code shows how much we have lost the support of families and friends. We might be more connected technologically but not socially. When we pulled down the terraced houses and replaced them with high rise flats we lost the sense of local communities.

A recent review set up by John Bercow, now the Speaker of the Commons, recommended that children should be tested for their language skills at the age of 2. Jean Gross, the Communications Champion, said that “those with poor speech at age two are doomed to a life of failure unless they receive help”. 

Children who are inarticulate at age 5 have little chance of catching up. They are twice as likely to be unemployed in their thirties and at greater risk of going to prison. Cuts to speech therapists and  reduction on school spending are not helping tackle this problem.

Earlier research at the University of Sheffield found that children whose parents were sociable eg members of sports clubs, church or voluntary groups, residents’ associations and similar, were brighter. They scored better on literacy, numeracy and verbal tests at age 5, compared to children whose parents led more solitary lives, taking into account differences in education and social class. It may be that more sociable parents are more positive when they speak to their children and speak to them more often. The children in turn develop social skills earlier which helps them do better at school – and in life generally.

With fewer real local communities parents have to make an effort to network and socialise which takes some organising.

A study carried out by the University of Michigan over a 25-year period found that children brought up in cleaner homes did better at school and earned more than children brought up in dirtier homes – regardless of race, social class, and level of parental education. The researchers put this down to efficiency, organisation and family values about helpful skills at school and work.

So the evidence is clear: talk to your children as much as you can in a positive manner and it will help them do well in life, especially if you are sociable parents.

Yawning = Loving You

Yawn contagion is a well-known phenomenon, for example in meetings, but Italian researchers have discovered that the closer you are to someone the more quickly your yawn will follow theirs.

For example in married couples yawns tended to follow in less than a minute. (Slight doubt here for me – how do you know your partner is not actually bored?)

So to be on the safe side if your beloved yawns make sure you do the same ASAP! And if you yawn and your partner doesn’t follow suit, uh-uh!

Italian researchers believe yawning is related to empathy, something others have also suggested, which is a key component of emotional Intelligence.

What doesn’t kill you makes you

The news that Ed Balls is using his wife’s name for his kids so that they don’t get bullied is perhaps understandable.

Of course he had a reputation as a bit of a bully himself as one of Gordon Brown’s enforcers and he may have been bullied himself as a child (bullies often were).

He says he only used his “challenging behaviour” with people he knew could stick up for themselves – like Gordon Brown (who has a bit of a reputation in that direction himself) and Tony Blair – and denies he treats people as badly as he was treated.

But is he really doing them any favours? Could a little adversity help you to become better adjusted as an adult?

Studies at the University of California have shown that when children respond to hostility or bullying, whether face-to-face or on-line, in kind they are liked more and earn more respect from their classmates and teachers according to a report in The Times.

Whilst not pleasant experiences the children remembered them more vividly than friendly events. Trying to placate your enemy doesn’t seem to pay whereas giving as good as you got earned higher ratings for maturity and social competence.

No-one is saying it is a good thing to have a lot of people hostile to you, and children no-one disliked were the best adjusted, but the research suggests that rather than ignoring bullies or people who dislike you, or trying to placate them, or even being completely unaware of them, it is better to confront them.

Similar results have been found by researchers at Strathclyde University. Children who are good at standing up to bullies, whether for themselves or others, are better at resolving problems without conflict, are more emotionally literate, and better at taking other people’s perspective.

In other words they display the emotional intelligence skills of self-awareness, self-control, empathy, and managing relationships.

Updated from post originally on EI 4u May 2010