Conscious Parenting & The Gift of Presence

Carol Dweck and Claudia Mueller’s famous 1998 study revealed the effects that praise has on a child’s relationship to achievement.

128 children were asked to solve math problems. 1 group was praised for their intellect (“you’re so clever!”) and the other for their effort  (“you must have tried very hard”). When given more complex problems next, the kids praised for intellect struggled more, whilst those praised for effort worked harder at the challenge. The kids praised for intellect showed lower task persistence, enjoyment and performance. When asked to report their task scores to an external group, they inflated their scores. This group of kids learned to define intelligence as a fixed trait, and showed signs of distress when they experienced a set back in their achievements.

So instead of practicing excessive praise, what could we do instead?

Notice when you dish out empty praise. It’s likely that the words “good girl!” or “clever boy” roll off your tongue without much thought. It take effort to respond to a child’s effort or achievement. Conscious parenting challenges you to firstly notice what you say automatically.

But more than that, a healthier alternative to praise could be simply ‘keen attentiveness’ paid to the child:

“I once watched Charlotte* with a four-year-old boy, who was drawing. When he stopped and looked up at her — perhaps expecting praise — she smiled and said, ‘There is a lot of blue in your picture.’ He replied, ‘It’s the pond near my grandmother’s house — there is a bridge.’ He picked up a brown crayon, and said, ‘I’ll show you.’ Unhurried, she talked to the child, but more importantly she observed, she listened. She was present. Being present, whether with children, with friends, or even with oneself, is always hard work. But isn’t this attentiveness — the feeling that someone is trying to think about us — something we want more than praise?”

*Charlotte Stiglitz, the mother of the Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz

~ “How praise can cause a loss of confidence”, The Examined Life: How We Lose and Find Ourselves, by Stephen Grosz

Conscious Parenting & The Gift of Presence

Conscious Parenting Celebrates Virtues

We often see the world in good and bad, which affects the way we parent. Very naturally when our children do something that we approve of, we praise him or her. It usually sounds like, “good girl!” or “you’re a very good boy today”. It comes rolling off our tongue unconsciously.

Good and bad is a conclusion from which we judged an action (or non-action). The effect of this is, the child feels judged. This robs their power and their say in the matter; it is a projection placed upon him or her from the parent. Or Aunt, like in my case with my niece. She didn’t want to share her cookie with me. I got upset, and I chided her for being selfish, that her unwillingness to share doesn’t make her a good girl.

Was I the judge of her? Yes. I condemned her action and made her sit under a big neon sign that flashed the letters SELFISH. If I had put myself in her shoes for a moment before judging her so quickly, I might have seen it from another perspective. Maybe she was being careful about her things. Maybe she wanted to savor her cookie at her own pace and just wasn’t ready to share yet. The point is, she was doing her thing, not mine, and got called a bad girl for it. Pretty unfair isn’t it?

Step out of the world of good and bad. Step out of judging these little ones by the way we interpret their actions.

Take that moment instead to ask “why did you do that?” and hear from them. Acknowledge their virtues or the intention instead, like “Ah hah! You’re exploring colors!” vs. “your paining isn’t turning out very good…” or “I get that you’re trying to take care of your toys” vs. “stop pulling your sister’s hair, you’re a bad girl!” (in the case of the latter, it’s natural that they will act to protect/defend themselves when threatened – we do it too, does that make us bad girls and boys?)

Over time, your child will grow up exercising those virtues instead of grow up being afraid of that voice in their head that judges everything he or she does as good or bad.

Conscious Parenting Celebrates Virtues