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A call for research-based praising policies

By John Rosemond
John Rosemond
John Rosemond, an N.C. author, writes on traditional parenting.

How they raise their kids is a touchy subject for lots of parents. When I was growing up, it was said that one should not engage in discussions of religion or politics. These days, engaging in conversation concerning how someone raises their children is just as likely to end the relationship as a discussion of their religious or political beliefs.

The further problem is that anti-intellectualism is in the air. In “The Iron Lady,” the aged Margaret Thatcher, as portrayed by Meryl Streep, becomes agitated when her physician asks her how she’s feeling. She reprimands him, noting that it is a person’s thoughts that truly count, that truly reflect the character of the person.

Indeed, feelings are functional only when they are under intellectual control. When feelings rule thought processes, irrational thinking and behavior are inevitable. Furthermore, when feelings rule, facts become irrelevant. Examples abound of widely held beliefs that have little if any basis in fact.

I recently came across a study showing that when adults praise ability, performance actually worsens. Praising effort, on the other hand, raises performance over time. This is the difference between telling a child he’s really good at math and telling a child you’re proud of how much effort he put forth studying for the math test (irrespective of his grade). Over time, the former child’s math grades are likely to go down, while the latter child’s go up.

Apparently, ability-based praise causes the former child to believe he is entitled to good grades in math, no matter his effort. So, he does less and less. This finding just goes to show that regardless of context, entitlement is corrosive. It does not bring out the best in people and may in fact bring out the worst, including increasing demands for more entitlements.

The interesting thing about the research in question is that when the researcher informed parents of her results, the majority dismissed it, became defensive, or flat out told her they didn’t care, they were going to keep right on telling their kids how wonderful they were.

That’s irrational. Here we have parents for whom facts are irrelevant. They won’t even consider them. It is difficult at best for parents to be objective. The purpose of research-based information is to help them make better decisions. Granted, some research is garbage, but this particular study was not.

Why didn’t the study’s results cause parents to reconsider their praise policies? Because giving praise made them feel good, and receiving praise made their children feel good.

For more than 40years, parents and schools have put more emphasis on children’s feelings than their thoughts. This is why so many of them have such difficulty thinking straight.

It’s bad enough when children operate on the basis of feelings. It’s potentially catastrophic 9when their parents do as well.

John Rosemond: www.rosemond.com
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