Feb 20, 2012

Good job!...(not)

Number One said he wanted to try his hand (or is that leg?) at soccer. So we enlisted him and forked out for fees, shin guards and shoes. Yesterday, we took Number One to his second session of soccer grading.

Hubs and I shook our head in despair as we watched him on the field. A half hearted attempt to get near the ball would have been good but he didn't even look half-hearted.

At break time, I, tiger mom style, went over to reprimand him and said he has to try his best and he wasn't putting his heart in it and he's in for some trouble if he doesn't get his butt moving.

I went back and Hubs asked about our exchange so I told him. Hubs remarked: "People here seem to always say, 'good job' or 'good going'. They are always encouraging to children."

"Bah!" I scoffed. "That's fake confidence if they aren't really good. That's why today's generation thinks they are a whole lot better than they really are."

It's not that I'm unfamiliar with the temptation to praise when results are not good. We lie to them to soothe their egos and avoid hurting them. But does it hurt them more if we lie?

Today, I read this article in the New York Times about self-control and empty praise. Here's an excerpt:

"Americans could take one tip from Asian and French parents: abandon the idea that they must support self-esteem at all costs. Children do not benefit from routine empty praise, like the cries of “Good job!” that ring out over American playgrounds. Chinese and French parents are sparing in their praise, yet children from those cultures do not have noticeably lower self-esteem."

I'm not an ogre - if anything, I've always tended to see the beauty of what my child offers up, and leaned toward praise. Soometimes I praise simply because it is easier to praise than critique. But I've resolved to be more conscious, especially since my children are now older. Aren't we limiting our children if we say it's good, when they can do better? Praise is to be earned - things that are given freely lose their value. The only exception to this is love.

Anyway, the second half of the grading was much improved and Number One actually got to kick the ball a few times. "That was good... much better, darling," I said. "You were horrible the first half."
"Mom," he objected. "That is just rude."
"No, that is the truth," I replied.

I also called a spade a spade when we met Number Two's teacher for a parent-teacher interview last week.

"He's doing beautifully," she said. "He listens well, and responds in class appropriately. The only thing is he seems to be concerned with speed - he does things quickly, and then gives them to me. I send him back and say 'there is more time, why don't you colour that in a little bit more?'"

Ah, yes, I know this facet of Number Two.

"He's lazy," I said.

The teacher smiles and said, "So he needs to work on doing things better and spending more time on it...and not being...err..lazy," seeming to stumble through this negative word.

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