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6 Reasons to Stop the “Every Kid Gets a Trophy” Epidemic

Just pretend:  The sports season just ended and you and the other parents are bursting with pride watching each child receive a participation trophy with their teammates. Of course, we hate to see our children disappointed, so when we notice every kid holding a golden statue, we utter a collective parent sigh: “Oh, good, they all feel special!” Phew!

But do our good intentions really help our kids? Not if we really want to nurture our children’s character and base our parenting on solid child-development research.

The “Every Kid Gets a Prize” is a staple of modern-day parenting. Even coaches and the sports industry are jumping on board. The local chapter of one national sports association spends roughly 12 percent of its yearly budget on trophies just to make sure that every kid feels special—even if it’s just for “showing up.”

But beware: our good-hearted trend may actually backfire and diminish-not nurture-our children’s self-esteem, character and resilience. Here are six reasons to stop the “Every kid gets a trophy” trend, and pronto.

Curtails Character Development

Our children develop crucial character traits like perseverance, dependability, and trustworthiness by rolling up their sleeves, practicing hard, and giving tasks their personal best. Awarding kids for putting on a uniform is honoring mediocrity-not excellence-and it robs them of the opportunity to strengthen their character. Character is what helps our children become good people and handle life.

Short-Changes Real-Life Preparation

Life is tough. Success is hard work. So truth be told: the real world doesn’t give out ribbons, medals, awards and trophies just for participating. Ask yourself: “If my child thinks that all she has to do is show up to earn the prize, what message does she learn?”

Let’s not allow our kids to believe that they can take the easy way out, cut corners, and rely on others to do the heavy hitting. Doing so won’t prepare them for the real world.

Robs “Authentic” Self-Esteem

In all fairness, a big reason many parents joined the “Trophy Bandwagon” is because they assumed that it would nurture their children’s self-esteem. But research tells a different story.

Authentic self-esteem is comprised of two parts: A Feeling of Worthiness (“I am a worthwhile person”) and A Feeling of Competence (“I am capable to handle life.”)

While that trophy may make a kid feel “special” in the moment, it doesn’t endure. Real self-esteem is gained from praise, pats on the back or trophies that are earned, and kids are quick to recognize they did nothing to warrant the award.

Curtails Resilience

Helping kids cope with adversity must be part of our parenting agendas. After all, life has bumps and our children must learning coping skills to ride them out.

Children become more tolerant to frustration when they are exposed to setbacks in small doses.That way when those bigger challenges come along they realize they can handle them.

Giving every kid a trophy as a means to cushion disappointment from not “being the best,” only reduces their chances to realize that they can bounce back and curtails their capacity for resilience.

Devalues Real Success

 I’ll never forget when my college-bound son handed me a box of his trophies culled from being on dozens of teams. “They don’t mean anything,” he explained, “everyone has same trophies.” He saved just one medal from a team History Day competition that was well-earned from hard work and passion.

If every kid gets the trophy, then their “real win” isn’t special and they fail to reap the joy that comes from realizing that their hard efforts actually paid off.

It’s natural for parents to want to help their kids feel good, but what we may be missing is helping them care about others and support their teammatesThe real world isn’t about “Me” but “We.” In today’s diverse, global world our children must learn to collaborate and support each other. And we must switch our kids’ from thinking, “I, me, mine,” to “we, us ours.” One way to do so is by encouraging them to recognize the strengths of others, and to congratulate their teammates for their talents. To prepare them for today’s world, we must help our kids think “WE,” not “ME.”

Let’s stop this craze of giving every kid a trophy just for showing up and breathing. The practice is not beneficial to children’s character development. Instead, tell your son or daughter that you are proud that they were a team player and that you loved going to those games or event.

Do snap that photo of your child, but make sure your son or daughter is in a group shot with all his or her teammates. Now there is the memory that both you and your child will want to preserve! And it’s also one of the best ways to raise a generation of kids who think “WE,” not “ME.”

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UnSelfie 140x210Teens today are 40 percent less empathetic than they were thirty years ago. Why is a lack of empathy—along with the self-absorption epidemic Dr. Michele Borba calls the Selfie Syndrome—so dangerous? First, it hurts kids’ academic performance and leads to bullying behaviors. Also, it correlates with more cheating and less resilience. And once children grow up, it hampers their ability to collaborate, innovate and problem-solve—all must-have skills for the global economy. The good news? Empathy is a trait that can be taught and nurtured.  UnSelfie is a blueprint for parents and educators who want activate our children’s hearts and shift their focus from I, me, and mine… to we, us, and ours.  It’s time to include “empathy” in our parenting and teaching!  UnSelfie is AVAILABLE NOW at amazon.com.

Teachers, Want to Help A Child Learn? Encourage Wiggling!

The research is clear, many of us move to think, that means we can cheer for kids who like to wiggle while they learn.

Large motor movement such as walking 15 minutes before school, doing moderate-intensity exercise before a test and peddling or bouncing before academics have been shown to improve performance. Small movements such as fidgeting, squirming, leg-swinging, foot-tapping, and chair-scuffling may help us learn new knowledge and work out complex tasks. The research is reviewed in 70 Play Activities.

Here are 8 science-based ways to improve thinking, learning, and behavior in your classroom.

70 Play Activities – Kenney & Comizio 2016

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70-play-hi-res-150x197Written for teachers, educators, and clinicians whose work involves playing, talking or teaching children who would benefit from better executive function and social-emotional learning skills, 70 Play Activities incorporates over 100 research studies into printable worksheets, handouts, and guided scripts with step-by-step directions, to empower children to learn and behave better. “With 70 Play Activities we aim to improve the trajectory of children’s learning by integrating the newest neuroscience with activities children love!” With over 70 activities designed to improve thinking, self-regulation, learning and behavior, your tool-kit will be full and your creative brain will be inspired to craft your own meaningful exercises. 70 Play Activities is available at amazon.com

 

How to Include The Family Dog In Summer Trips & Activities

Right around Christmas time, I wrote an article about safely traveling for the holidays with your pet. We touched on many things from car safety (using proper harnesses and seat-belts and being in the back seat) to night-safety guidelines and which ‘tools’ were the best to use and which ones to leave at home (with respect to leashes and collars). If you missed this article, here is the link so you can get up to speed on some important safety information.

While all of those same suggestions apply now, there are other things to take into consideration during the hot summer months if you’re planning to include the dog in your activities. Whether you are going for just a day trip, or an extended vacation by car or RV, here are some things you are going to want to keep in mind

For Prolonged Car Rides, RV Trips AND “Detours” Along The Way:

  • Never leave your pet in the car: Just like you’d never leave your child unattended in the car, never leave your dog in one either. It heats up and becomes a furnace very quickly… and since most pets have a ‘built-in’ fur coat, they can over-heat that much faster! Oftentimes we think ‘we’re only running in quickly, they’ll be fine just for those few minutes’. But let’s face it, when traveling with kids, those few minutes can turn into much longer than you expected just trying to corral them back into the car! And don’t forget that Fido might need a bathroom break and to stretch his legs too!
  • Sight-seeing and tourist attractions along the way: If you plan on doing some sight-seeing along the way, map out your trip in advance, and figure out the spots you want to stop at and go sightseeing.
    • If they are indoor spots (like a museum) or a theme or water park, unless your dog is a Service Dog, they are generally not permitted inside. Do your research way in advance, and get some suggestions on local kennels or pet-sitters in those immediate areas, and find out what their availability is, and if you need to make a reservation. *Note: Many of the theme parks such as Disney and Epcot Center have on-site kennels.  This way your time with the kids is not rushed and you know your pooch is safe while you enjoy some quality family time together.
    • If they are outdoor spots, like walking or nature trails, a lake to swim in, or picnic spots, and your dog is welcome there (call in advance just to make sure this is still the case) make sure you bring plenty of fresh water for them as well as for yourself and the kids. You never know what kind of bacteria or microorganisms might be living in any specific lake or body of water, so providing frequent drinks for your pet will reduce their ‘natural instinct’ to drink from any source available if they are thirsty. Many pet stores (and Amazon) offer collapsible water dishes that even have a carabineer to attach to your belt-loop.

Full Day Outings

  • A full day of hiking: If you will be hiking for several hours, you’ve probably packed snacks for the kids. Make sure to bring some food for your dog to snack on too. Think about it- after an hour, we often feel hungry… not necessarily for a full meal, but a quick ‘pick-me-up snack’. Your dog is no different. So make sure you bring some extra kibble along, or some milk bones for them to snack on. Avoid training treats and small chewy snacks… as they are very high in sodium content, and will make your dog dehydrate faster, and be thirstier. Another type of collapsible dish offers food AND water capacity
  • Be aware of signs / symptoms of heat exhaustion AND heat stroke for both your children and your pets…

  • Hot pavement and rocky terrain: Another thing to take into consideration when hiking with the kids and pets…. Consider for a moment all the reasons you wouldn’t have your child hike barefoot. Those same reasons apply plus a few more.  On top of the potential for possible cuts from rocks, and burns from hot pavement (some trails are partially paved), while dogs primarily ‘sweat’ through excessive panting, they also have a small amount of sweat glands that are prominently in the paw pads. If the pads get burns, or dry out and crack, it can cause your dog to overheat that much faster. Besides the boots your dog can wear for winter or rain, some new ‘breathable boots’ boots were created with a ‘cool down’ feature which will protect them from overheating as well as prevent cuts and scrapes.  I also like to use a product called ‘Musher’s Secret’. This is a wax that goes on their paws and protects them from the heat.
  • Sunburn: Beyond packing water for everyone (kids and dogs) and making sure they get shade, many people do not realize that their dogs are just as susceptible to sunburns – and even skin cancer – as their kids are! Here is a link to a very informative article to learn more about which dogs are more prone to sunburns, which areas on the dog’s body are more apt to be affected, how to treat it, and more importantly, how to avoid it…and don’t forget to bring sunscreen for your kid’s delicate skin too!
  • Keep your dog on leash at all times: I know, I know…. The point of being out in nature is to explore and be free! And it is fun to give them the chance to be free and watch them explore new things! But what if the ‘new thing’ they want to explore can potentially be dangerous? Like another dog that comes by that is not so friendly? Or a wild animal that they decide to suddenly chase after? Or worse: A child who is AFRAID of dogs, that does not know your dog is a sweet and friendly outgoing mutt that just wants to say hello? Oftentimes, in their panic, they run, and can get hurt. I will be the first to say that as a professional dog trainer, my dog has an amazing recall…. But he is still a dog… not a robot! This is not his every day environment…. and when new and exciting things are all around him, can I 100% guarantee that he will listen to me when I call him back? Nope – not unless I have him on a leash. And please…. Leave the retractable leashes at home! The purpose of the leash is to give you full control at all times. Retractable leashes cannot guarantee that. I recommend nothing longer than a 6 foot leash. One last comment on this: If your dog is friendly and sweet with those he knows but not very social with unknown dogs and people, they may not be a great candidate for hiking trails. Your dog will smell, hear, and see others long before you do. This is your vacation, but others want to enjoy a peaceful quiet walk on their vacation too! A dog that barks or yaps incessantly, or growls and snaps at others can ruin your vacation and spoil it for others too! Be aware of your dog’s temperament and be considerate of others.
  • Vaccinations and flea and tick preventative: It is important to remember that this is not your backyard… and diseases can be found in many species of wild animals… disease that can immediately affect and harm your dog: and ultimately harm your kids. (see my article about how regular vet visits can help keep your child safe….parts one and two). Also, Make sure your dog is on flea and tick preventative!! Last thing you want are those critters ‘hitching a ride’ on your pet or your kids!! Make sure you do a nightly check of both the kids and pets after a long day of hiking to make sure they are both free of any free-loading cling-ons!!
  • Dog friendly parks: I am going to add one last link that I found to be very informative. A ‘dog owner’s guide to visiting National Parks’. It has some great information on some of the National parks and their rules and regulation regarding dogs.

And finally, I’ll end this by saying there are many pet-friendly places to take your whole family (dog included) this summer, but it is vital that you really know your dog and pay close attention to his body language. Unlike your older child who can verbally communicate with you that they are tired and/or hungry… or a baby who gets cranky to convey the same message, your dog cannot tell you what they need or what they are feeling. Being aware of them at all times will enable you to determine when they are enjoying their time with the family, and when they have had enough and need a break. A grumpy tired dog can quickly become an unpredictable one. Don’t forget to do your research in advance, make whatever plans and reservations you need to make, and this will ensure that you, your family, your dog, and others around you will all have a safe and enjoyable summer together!

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Reference: Information for the Heat Exhaustion, Heat Stroke charts were compiled from the following sources

6 Parenting Behaviors That Hurt Kids: How to Recognize & Fix Them

THE REALITY CHECK: 

  • Referees giving parents lollipops at youth hockey games to stop them from yelling at their kids.
  • Teachers taking out insurance policies to defend themselves against parental lawsuits (“She gave my kid a B+ and ruined his Harvard chance!”)
  • Moms socially engineering kid “cliques to feature only the ‘best’ and leaving out other Moms.”

No kidding! These are the stories I’ve been collecting and have shared on the TODAY show. And these are real issues that are affecting our children’s character. Here’s what to do. ENOUGH!

Parents behaving badly is a timeless problem, but there’s a modern-day category of ill-behaving Moms and Dads who could easily earn membership in the Parents Wall of Shame. Their actions are insensitive, manipulative and callous, but also impact kids. Make no mistake, uncivil adult behaviors affect children’s moral development. After all, kids learn values like compassion, honesty, sportsmanship, civility, and respect from example. And oh how today’s kids desperately need good role models! But grownup insensitivity also affects other parents who should be around supportive, civil-minded adults! Here are six bad parenting behaviors that are affecting our kids’ character …and solutions.

#1. The Braggart

New Child and Parent Motto: “Share and take turns.”

Whether it’s bragging about our kid’s grades, talent, or athletic feats, parents love to boast! One survey found that the average mom posts a whooping 1,000 photos of their child online before he turns five. Of course we are proud of our kids, but always bragging, constantly comparing, or continually dismissing other children’s accomplishments also lower the other parent’s confidence. Parental boasting and bragging may be one reason today’s teen narcissism increased 58 percent in 30 years. Watch out! Kids copy what they see and hear and it’s not always pretty and polite.

Solution: Parental pride is natural, so when a parent who rarely boasts finally does, she deserves our sincere “Congrats.” If bragging is usually one-sided and rarely considers your child’s accolades, try: “Isn’t it wonderful how well our kids are doing? Mine just…” (and then describe your pride).

But what if the parent continues her exclusive “My kid is so special” routine and you want to maintain your relationship? Speak up and explain your side: “You always brag about your child and never ask about mine. I feel you don’t care about my family.” If that doesn’t work, find another friend! Pride about our kids should always be a two-way club.  

#2. The Bad Sport

New Child and Parent Motto: “Be a good sport or you can’t play.”

A Reuters News poll found that 60 percent of American adults who’d been to youth sporting events said they’d witnessed parents “become verbally or physically abusive towards the coaches or officials.” But there’s also parents screaming at their kids’ performance and booing the opposing team. No wonder nearly 75 percent of kids who play organized sports quit by age 13!

Yes, parents make huge investments in sports in hopes of scholarships and college entries, but bad behavior teaches poor sportsmanship and also undermine kids’ love for the game. Enough!

Solution: Unacceptable adult behavior can’t be ignored, but …

Confronting offensive parents can be a potential fireball. Better to move your seat, and approach cooled-down troublemakers later to share your concerns. Beware!

Many leagues and schools require parents to sign pre-season sportsmanship pledges and attend mandatory “ethics” courses or their kids can’t play. Spectators can then report inappropriate parental behavior to officials who can notify the offenders that uncivil behavior can mean banishment from games.

Meanwhile can we please be positive and remember to cheer the whole team, entire class, the other kid, not just our child? Please!

#3. The Gossip

New Child and Parent Motto: “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say it!”

Think Queen Bees were confined to the middle school hive? Many adults never outgrew their mean childhood antics and now gossip about other parents. Those sordid details also show up on social media with no way for parents to defend themselves. While gossiping can be a way to connect with others and find reassurance about your parenting, cattiness is toxic. It’s easy to get caught in the gossip mill and spread hurtful rumors. Beware: kids pick up our behavior and mimic us. It’s a big reason the Mean Girl Tween Scene is flourishing.

Solution: Make a vow not to gossip. If you do hear cattiness, speak up: ‘It isn’t fair to talk about her when she isn’t here to defend herself.” And never give out information that a catty parent can use against you or others or assume that she won’t spread untruths about you. Meanwhile, find like-minded parents and join forces. Together, you can change norms.

#4. The Excluder

New Child and Parent Motto: “How would you feel if that happened to you?”

Deliberately leaving others out is called social exclusion, and is a form of bullying that causes deep distress. It peaks in middle school, but the tactic is all-too common with moms these days (“She’s cool and can join us.” “Don’t let Shelley come!”) But the excluded aren’t only women, but also their kids. One report described one mom who saved eight bus seats for 11-year girls. (She literally jumped on the bus and roped off the seats!) When a new girl asked if she could join “those girls,” the child was told “Sorry, but those seats are reserved.” Adults who socially engineering the “in” and “out” cliques for  kids, are being plain cruel.

Solution:

Just plain refuse to join grownup Queen Bees. The best way to cultivate empathy is for parents to demand that kids treat others with dignity, and then show that you are inclusive.

To other Moms: “Let’s invite her! She just moved here.” Do the same with your child: “Invite all the boys: you don’t leave one out.” “Ask Abby to come!” How would you feel as a new kid?”

You might not be BFFs with every mom, but you will set a great example for your child. And that’s what matters!

#5. The Non-Disciplinarian

New Child and Parent Motto: “Be nice, or you can’t play.”

“I don’t discipline because I don’t want to damage my child’s self-esteem,” I hear from countless parents. While wanting to be a “Pal Not a Parent” is a hot trend, correcting misbehavior is part of raising good people. So how do you discipline when a misbehaving child is in your care?

Solution: While you don’t want to counter a parent’s child-rearing philosophy, if behavior is dangerous, harmful to others (like hitting, biting, bullying) or counters your values, you can’t ignore it.

You can review your rules: “In our house we don’t swear,” and separate kids from each other, but spanking, grounding, or yelling the “other child” are off-limits.

If the parent is present, disciplining their child is also a no-no. If misbehavior continues, call the parent: “I’m sure you would want to know so this is what our kids were up to.” Her child will give his interpretation, so better it come from you. Just don’t expect the parent to take your side. Do beware parental litigations are rising. Manhattan play groups ask parents to sign four-page waivers so they won’t be sued when supervising the other parents’ kids! It’s a very different world to raise kids!

#6. The Bully

New Child and Parent Motto: “Expect respect!”

Bullying is hurtful whatever the age, and it is always intentional-delivered cruelty. Nightmare stories continually surface about parents verbally abusing other moms and dads-both online and off. Bullying is learned and can be unlearned. The sooner we show kids how to stand up for themselves, the less likely they’ll be targeted.

Solution: Use my CALM Strategy for handling a bully of any age.

C – Stay calm. (Bullies love reactions).

A – Assert yourself with a strong (never insulting) comeback back: “Cut it out.” Or: “Stop it!”

L – Look bully in the eye.

M – Mean it! Deliver the line with a firm, confident, serious voice.

Practicing CALM with your child will help reduce peer cruelty.

Raising good people starts with adults modeling good character, and many grown-ups are in need of serious behavior makeovers.

Meanwhile, let’s take our own Reality Check and ask ourselves: “If my kid watched only my behavior, what would he have caught today?” That answer will say volumes about your child’s character development.

What are your worst nightmare stories that involve parents? How did you handle them?

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UnSelfie 140x210Teens today are 40 percent less empathetic than they were thirty years ago. Why is a lack of empathy—along with the self-absorption epidemic Dr. Michele Borba calls the Selfie Syndrome—so dangerous? First, it hurts kids’ academic performance and leads to bullying behaviors. Also, it correlates with more cheating and less resilience. And once children grow up, it hampers their ability to collaborate, innovate and problem-solve—all must-have skills for the global economy. The good news? Empathy is a trait that can be taught and nurtured.  UnSelfie is a blueprint for parents and educators who want activate our children’s hearts and shift their focus from I, me, and mine… to we, us, and ours.  It’s time to include “empathy” in our parenting and teaching!  UnSelfie is AVAILABLE NOW at amazon.com.

3 Ways Music Improves Kids’ Learning, Relationships & Confidence

When we think of music, often what comes to mind is song. We may think of Broadway musicals, Bach or Justin Timberlake. In our minds, we might imagine orchestras or pianists.

Music has been central to civilization for thousands of years. In fact, before we had language we used musical tones and sounds to communicate. The tone of a grunt signaled a message in our prehistoric ancestors, while the beat of a drum brought village people together in unity far and wide. What we think of a little less often is what music is made of and how it impacts our learning, behavior and social relationships.

Music is all around us as we hear the subway cling and clatter, the pitter-patter of our children’s footsteps and the ambient noise inherent in life. Music engages our sensory, motor and auditory pathways in the brain fostering engagement and synchronicity (Patel & Iverson, 2014).

Curiously, the ability to synchronize with a beat is associated with learning language and grammar (Corriveau & Goswami, 2009; Gordon et al., 2015). At its core music is made of beats and rhythms that create sound, melody and even movement. These beats and rhythms are meaningful scaffolds we can use in school, at home and in life to enhance foundational aspects of our learning, behavior and character.

Here are three ways to incorporate music into your family life to foster growth in learning, behavior, confidence, social relationships and character.

TRUST Engaging in music with your children, classmates and workmates can enhance a sense of cohesion, emotional safety and trust. Our brains and bodies love to entrain, that is, join together in synchrony with others. Moving, tapping and singing in synchrony provide us with a felt-sense of togetherness, safety and trust. Consider for a moment, the smile on an infant’s face as he plays clapping games with his mother. Think about your own emotions as you walk by a classroom of students harmonizing in song.

“Musical engagement provides opportunities to improve social cohesion, psychological safety and trust in our relationships.”

What can you do? Sing more with others. Whether acapella, with the radio or as you complete your tasks of daily living, turn up the music and sing along. Choose songs that are known to all and enjoy the feeling of camaraderie and togetherness as you sing out that tune, together.

LEARNING – Even if you aren’t a musical performer, songs, chants, poems and raps are a wonderful way to learn academic knowledge. Music provides a rhythmic foundation on which to layer information in order to encode it and make it learned knowledge.  Further, consistent beats, specifically in 4/4 time, stimulate the brain’s natural interest, comfort and familiarity with patterns and sequences. Help your children learn their math facts, historical knowledge, literature and foreign language saying simple repetitive words with rhythm for better encoding and retrieval of learned knowledge.

“We are musical beings, even our neurons fire like an orchestra.”

MOVE IT – Clapping, tapping, stepping, marching and bouncing to a beat provide a firm scaffold on which to layer learning. Start by clapping or stepping to a simple quarter note at 85-120 beats per minute and increase tempo as the children become familiar with the beat.

On the downbeat add the content to be learned, for example, C-A-T CAT.  You can also say the words syllabically, HO – USE HOUSE with a double clap on the fourth beat. Imagine learning your history facts to a beat, “Abraham Lincoln, our 16th president, created Thanksgiving Day, he championed for freedom, as the children played.” Mix and match beats with rhythm, movements, sounds and words for an engaging social experience. The words can rhyme, but they don’t have to.

Music is magical. It has the ability to help us calm or energize, connect and reflect, enhancing our thinking skills, learning and character by engaging us as musical and prosocial beings.

Enjoy building confidence, character, and social connections as you chant, sing, move, and create to the sounds of music.

For more musical learning ideas see Musical Thinking and 70 Play Activities for Better Thinking, Self-Regulation, Learning and Behavior.

References:

  • Corriveau K, Goswami U. (2009). Rhythmic motor entrainment in children with speech and language impairments: tapping to the beat. Cortex, 45: 119–130.
  • Gordon R, Shivers C, Wieland E, Kotz S, Yoder P, McAuley J. (2015). Musical rhythm discrimination explains individual differences in grammar skills in children. Developmental Science, 18: 635–644.
  • Patel, A. D., & Iversen, J. R. (2014). The evolutionary neuroscience of musical beat perception: the Action Simulation for Auditory Prediction (ASAP) hypothesis. Frontiers in Systems Neuroscience, 8, 57.

Helpful websites:

www.letsplaymusicsite.com

http://thekiboomers.com

https://meludia.com/en/

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70-play-hi-res-150x197Written for teachers, educators, and clinicians whose work involves playing, talking or teaching children who would benefit from better executive function and social-emotional learning skills, 70 Play Activities incorporates over 100 research studies into printable worksheets, handouts, and guided scripts with step-by-step directions, to empower children to learn and behave better. “With 70 Play Activities we aim to improve the trajectory of children’s learning by integrating the newest neuroscience with activities children love!” With over 70 activities designed to improve thinking, self-regulation, learning and behavior, your tool-kit will be full and your creative brain will be inspired to craft your own meaningful exercises. 70 Play Activities is available at amazon.com

 

How We Praise Preschoolers Can Impact Character Development

How many times a day do you find yourself saying, “good job” to your young child? I know for me, this cliche phrase slips out numerous times a day. We all know that praise and encouragement (especially for good behavior) can be a strong motivator for children, especially around the preschool years. Preschoolers are in a stage of development where they are learning what it means to be them—self-concept.

Research is showing that the particular ways in which parents praise their children can influence, at least to some degree, how children come to understand themselves and their efforts. The key, it seems, is to help kids develop a “growth mindset” rather than a “fixed mindset” when it comes to how they think about their intelligence and ability to grow and learn. A “growth” mindset is one in which the child believes their efforts and trying new skills are what helps them learn and conquer new challenges. In contrast, some kids learn to think that their skill and intelligence are “fixed” and cannot be expanded with effort.

According to researchers, the preschool years are a key time to help kids understand this difference and how parents’ use praise may play a role. The commonly used comment, “good job” is generic praise in that it doesn’t inform the child what specifically they did well. On the other hand, “process praise” like the comment, “good job sharing with your friend” is the type of praise that helps the child understand what they did right so that they know what to focus on in the future.

In research studies, this difference in the types of  praise used by parents was predictive of children’s “motivational framework” years later. That simply means that the children had more of a mindset of growth. Process praise that emphasized the child’s effort, strategies, or actions helped the child understand that their intelligence is not fixed but they can achieve new skills by trying.

This growth mindset is all part of a larger set of “non-cognitive skills” that help kids learn and achieve. These skills, like resilience, self-control, and persistence have little to do with their innate cognitive ability. Many researchers in the last few years have begun to emphasize these skills. In his recent book, How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity and the Hidden Power of Character, Paul Tough explores many of these traits. He cites many research studies that illustrate the value of helping kids deal with failure and overcome it to move on with a task or class. Perhaps most importantly, he explains the difference between helping kids develop self-esteem and character,

“I think there is a real difference between developing self-esteem and developing character, and in the past few decades we’ve become confused about that. Yes, if you want to develop kids’ self-esteem, the best way to do it is to praise everything they do and make excuses for their failures.

But if you want to develop their character, you do almost the opposite: You let them fail and don’t hide their failures from them or from anybody else – not to make them feel lousy about themselves, but to give them the tools to succeed next time.”

What a gift we can help our kids develop! I think this message is so powerful because it can apply to so many aspects of life. In school, kids need these skills to persist in a hard class or sport. Consider later in life, when your adult child is faced with a tough job situation or even a difficult personal relationship. I can easily see how these character traits like persistence, dedication, and passion can serve them well. Even in their own personal development as a person, these traits are crucial to overcoming bad habits or staying healthy.

So the next time you’re are tempted to say, “good job” to your persistent preschooler, try pointing out how well she/he stuck with the task at hand. The language we use really can make a difference in our children’s future mindset.