April 14th, 2016
Before writing Real Parenting for Real Kids we surveyed our clients and asked them what their current goals were with their children. The majority said that they wanted more cooperation. Probably you too want your children to do what you ask, not just so you can have an easier life but because it’s your job to train your children into good habits for life. And for that you need some cooperation.
You may wish your child was more polite or would eat his greens or go to bed and stay in bed or focus more on his school work or try harder at swimming or would try again when he failed or do more around the house or get off his Xbox when you ask him to or get dressed promptly in the morning. You may wish your child would show more consideration for others or take responsibility when she does something wrong or wouldn’t flare up and bite your head off when she is upset about something. You may want her to do her eye exercises or stop sucking her thumb or to put her clothes in the laundry basket or to look people in the eye when they talk to her. To teach your child good habits and attitudes you’ll need them to cooperate with you.
That doesn’t mean your child can’t have an opinion or feelings about what they’ve been asked to do. I usually suggest that we don’t want to be breeding mindless automatons, but some of the parents in my classes admit they would settle for some blind compliance! If you’d like your child to listen to you more this is the place to be! Nothing opens the ears of a child (of any age) more than the skill we’re exploring here –Descriptive Praise. This is magic.
Praise, you think. That old hat! I know about praise. I try to praise my child but frankly he’s not often doing anything particularly praiseworthy. And I think kids actually get too much praise these days. Isn’t that what leads to this sense of entitlement everyone worries about?
Well yes, and no. If children are given meritless and meaningless praise all the time not only does it not have the desired effect of improving self-esteem and encouraging good behaviours but it does in fact lead to an expectation of constant praise and the worry that if they’re not being praised they must be rubbish. This is a result of the WRONG KIND OF PRAISE.
Descriptive praise is praise, but not as you know it.
Children cooperate when there is real connection between them and their parents. There is a biological imperative for a child to want to please their parent. I hear you scoff. That basic instinct can fade if the child no longer believes he can please his parent. If he hears a lot of criticism (so easy for us to lapse into this) then he will lose focus on doing what gets approval. The onus is on us adults to make the change and start noticing and commenting on the small things children get right. It’s no good just saying ‘well done’ or ‘good job’, ‘clever girl’ or ‘awesome’, ‘brilliant’ or ‘fantastic’. That kind of praise will have no meaningful effect and can make a child dependant on external approval.
Since we get more of what we pay attention to we need to notice the good stuff, rather than commenting on what’s gone wrong. Instead we need to describe to our children what they are doing right so that they can absorb that behaviour as a value and learn to self-assess. “Harry, you’re carrying that plate really carefully with your eyes on your hands. That way nothing has spilt.” “Georgia, you were really cross with Jack for turning off your video but you didn’t hit him or even yell at him – you told him it was your turn and you even gave him something else to play with. That shows me you understand that Jack finds it hard to wait. You’re teaching him patience.”
Descriptive Praise shapes behaviour more than any other tools in our parenting toolbox. We still need to have rules and we need to give instructions carefully to maximise cooperation and when our kids don’t want to do what we’re asking we’ll need to be able to empathise but Descriptive Praise is the magic that opens kids ears.
For more tools on getting the best out of your children, click here to pre-order Melissa Hood’s book Real Parenting, for Real kids at the discounted price of £13.99 until the launch date of 27t April 2016.