Friday 28 November 2014

Sinead Moriarty: Mollycoddling children will do them no good

Published 15/01/2013 | 17:00

We are all guilty of it. We've all done it. We've all looked at our five- year-old's painting of coloured splodges and said, 'Wow'. We've clapped and cheered when our seven-year-old stumbled their way through a song, forgetting half the words and completely off tune. We've hugged our eight-year-old when he came third-last in the race and said, "I'm so proud of you".

But new research has shown that by behaving in this manner, we are ruining our children. Stephen Grosz, a psychoanalyst, has written a book called 'The Examined Life'. In it he claims that empty praise is as bad as thoughtless criticism. Mr Grosz believes that we are all lying to ourselves. When we say, "we just want our children to be happy", what we actually mean is that we want them to be successful.

Research has shown that we, as parents, need to let our children breathe and stop smothering them with praise. Lavishing compliments on our youngsters for doing something trivial will actually demotivate them. Unnecessary praise might also make your child unaware of how hard they actually need to work to achieve things. We are giving our children a false sense of confidence and security.

It is certainly true that this trend of 'everyone's a winner' seems fake and phoney. It is farcical that nowadays at school sports days everyone wins the race. There are no winners and losers. This type of mollycoddling is doing our children no good. Surely telling your child that the kid who crossed the line first won the race is not going to crush them for the rest of their life.

Life is not a bed of roses and we need to prepare our children for knock-backs. If all they have ever heard is how wonderful they are, how are they going to react when their boss shouts at them for doing something wrong? How will they cope with their first rejection? An analysis of 150 students at the Ivy league university Stanford in California found that students who are over-praised become risk-averse, make less effort and are less motivated.

It seems we are being passive aggressive when extolling the virtues of our offspring. All the gushing praise, smiley faces, gold stars and medals for everyone, are killing off our children's desire to succeed.

But what's the alternative? No praise? Criticism? Is there a right amount of praise?

Experts say that the quality of praise is more important than the quantity: if praise is sincere and genuine, and focused on the effort, not the outcome, you can give it as often as your child does something that warrants a verbal reward.

We are too ambitious for our children. Instead of pushing them to go to college, Mr Grosz says, we need to listen to them. He points out that none of us know what our children will need in the future. So we should encourage them to be passionate about something and pursue that.

That's all very well, but what if your eight-year-old's two biggest passions are watching TV and eating Nutella sandwiches. Is that going to make him happy when he is older? Will he be happy when a crane has to lift him through his front door because he's 40 stone and has square eyes from watching too much TV?

I was talking to a Russian friend who lives in Dublin, about over-praising. She says she thinks we are very guilty of it in Ireland. She told me that when she came second in a swimming competition at the age of 10, her parents stormed out in disgust. There was no room for second place in her life.

While this sounds like extremely tough love, this woman has turned out to be very successful, confident and well-balanced ... .go figure!

So when I pick my four-year-old up from school today and she shows me her latest 'artwork', do I tell her it's rubbish and rip it up? Do I tell her she's the next Picasso? Perhaps I should do as Mr Grosz suggested, ask her what it is and listen to her explanation ...

Irish Independent

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