Monthly Archives: October 2013

Is too much praise ruining your child’s success?

girl with a trophy

Let’s lay out a scenario. You decide as a parent that you will build your child’s self-esteem, no matter what, because they will need great self-esteem to stand up for themselves and to succeed in this oft-times challenging world.

From the moment your child starts walking and talking, you let them know they are winners! “You were the best today in karate” even though they may be the child that is behind on all of the moves. “I don’t know what the dance teacher was talking about; you danced better than the other girls.”  Your child’s confidence grows and they believe you…they are the best in the activities they get involved in. They are the smartest in preschool and then in elementary school. Life is good!

Then a strange thing happens. As soon as new activities get hard, your child won’t step up to the challenge. They bulk and choose the simple road, choosing an easy activity or a sport they have always played over a harder one or something new. They read simple books instead of trying a story that is at their grade level. They don’t “like” games or activities that are hard or challenging, calling these things “boring.” They seem to be playing it safe.

What in the world happened to the winning spirit you have infused in this child?

In the book Mindset, (2008 by Carol S. Dweck, Ph.D.), she explains in simple terms what has happened.

She talks about two mindsets that we can have. The first is called a Fixed Mindset. In this one, we believe (even as young children) that our talents or our traits are set. That our talents don’t change. We are successful because people have told us we are successful and we seem to have a few talents we just were born with.  We become caught up in success and failure situations to validate ourselves. Working harder wouldn’t matter to us since we believe that our talents are not developed. We are just lucky enough to have them.

The second mindset is called Growth Mindset. In this mindset the individual is focused on stretching him or herself to learn something new, to improve. Effort is a good thing. There is no judgment after each activity of success or failure; just an assessment of what could be done next to improve upon the last results.

Numerous studies in Dr. Dweck’s book looked at children and adolescents who were given the same task, but they were praised differently.  An experiment was done with answering questions. One part of the group was praised for being smart and getting a ceratin number of problems right and the second group was praised for their effort and how hard they had worked on the problems. When the examiners offered harder, more challenging problems to the same participants, the “smart” group refused to do any more problems for fear harder questions would make them seem less smart – a failure in their eyes. 90% of the “effort” group asked for as many new problems as possible because they thrive on learning how to get better, on earning their successes. One more astonishing fact came from this study. The children were all asked to write down their scores for other school students to see what it would be like to go through the 10 questions they had just completed. 40% of the group that were praised for their ability, and not their effort, lied about the scores they achieved, because in the Fixed Mindset, imperfections are shameful.

So, with those two mindsets established, how are we to praise our children without driving them into the Fixed Mindset group? How do we get them to stop thinking in the black and white terms of “I have to win or be the best otherwise I have lost?” How do we shift to a Growth Mindset?

  • Children know when they are being falsely praised. Sure, they will take the praise and run with it but, in the end it’s hollow.
  • Start thinking of how you as a parent can change your statements to reward effort. Let your child hear you talking about how other people tried and failed and then succeeded, not because they were smart, but because they worked hard to change, improve and to stretch themselves.
  • Begin praising the effort in your child’s day, whether emotional effort, (“I know that was a hard thing to do but your apology was very good.”) or physical effort (“When you went after that ball today in the game, that was great hustle. Soon, you’ll be able to catch that player.”)
  • Make your statements to your child non-judgmental. Don’t give opinions about their traits or talents but instead, talk about their development and how exciting that is.
  • Don’t label your children! “This one is the artist and this one is our runner.” Try, “He really worked hard on a drawing yesterday. You should see how much he has improved.” Or “She has been really working to improve her running times and it’s really paying off.”
  • Teach children that there are tiny steps in reaching a goal. Things don’t just happen. Lay out each stage your child will need to accomplish in order to achieve something hard that they want and then reward every little step in that direction.
  • A mindset can be changed – yours and your child’s.

No parent sets out to undermine a child’s skills or to create a child who is afraid to attempt anything hard because it knocks them off their safe pedestal of always being the smart one or the fast one. But when we continue to praise ability, and not effort, we fall into the Fixed Mindset and our children will follow along with us.  We are all capable of reaching for a Growth Mindset; it just takes, well, it takes some effort!




Handwriting: a lost art?

pen writing

In our grandmother’s day, writing was one of the major 3 R’s, along with Reading and Arithmetic. (yes, arithmetic was counted as an R word…) Writing was considered a basic skill that all children needed to learn. Lessons were rigidly taught with endless drills.

Today with so many budgetary cuts, National Core Standards continue to chop away at handwriting in the schools, leaving millions of children with sub-standard handwriting when it comes to legibility and function. Other concerned groups point their fingers at the computer and key boarding skills as eroding the need for handwriting. And don’t get me started on texting, which eliminates the need to touch a pencil at all!

Bea Johnson, a national expert on childhood development states, “What happens to the child who is not allowed to write?  The latest research about the development of intelligence leads us to believe this is dangerous ground.  Windows of opportunity that only open once might be missed and potential for learning, lost forever.”

The problem with a lessened focus on handwriting or penmanship, started long ago. From the 1900 to the 1940’s, handwriting required that a teacher be trained in that field, and like a drill sergeant, she taught posture and pencil position right along with letter formation. Left-handed children were made to write with their right hands. We ruined a lot of kids.

From the 1950’s to the 1970’s, two accepted ways of handwriting came out that made everyone confused. Should schools adopt the Zoner-Bloser method (ball and stick) or The D’Nealian method (slanted with flares on each letter)? And to further compound the issue, in the 1970’s the Whole Language approach to learning was introduced. That approach said, we don’t care HOW they write as long as the CONTENT is good.

In the 1980’s handwriting woes became the number one referral to OT’s in the schools. At present day, teachers work hard to fit handwriting into the busy curriculum, but as a parent you can also help to child as he learns to form the letters.  Good letter formation fosters a tremendous sense of accomplishment when another person can read a child’s writing.

Take it from someone who was plagued her whole childhood with atrocious handwriting that there’s more to sloppy handwriting then just a bad habit. Writing is an extremely difficult skill for children to master. It involves a process that requires both mental and physical cooperation to be able to channel one’s thoughts onto paper.

First, it’s important to know that there is more to handwriting than picking up a pencil, placing it on the page and pushing it around. There are at least seven necessary components in any handwriting experience. They are:

  1. Memory: does your child recall hoe each letter is formed? Does he have to sit and think for long periods how the letter should look before he writes it?
  2. Orientation of the letter: Do any of the letters get reversed? The ‘d’ is often the letter that is most often reversed because it occurs more often than the ‘b’, ‘p’, or ‘q’.
  3. Placement on the line: Does your child’s letter float above the line or sink below it?
  4. Size of the letters: As a child gets older, the size of the letters should shrink. If your child is in second grade and the letters are still the bigger size of a Kindergartener’s, this would be an area to practice.
  5. Sequence: Does your child start writing the letters at the top of the letter? All capital letters are properly written by starting at the top and lower case either start in the middle like on an ‘e’ or at the top. No letters are written from the bottom up!
  6. Control: Does your child have a smooth formation to each letter or is there jerkiness?
  7. Spacing: Is there enough spacing between letters so that they don’t touch each other? Is there enough spacing between words so it is obvious where one starts and the next begins?

Now that you know the technicalities, there are plenty of things to do to help your child develop good handwriting skills. Handwriting Without Tears offers a whole line of curriculum and handwriting products that are meant to be fun and game oriented ways to practice writing. They offer everything from workbooks and guides, to special paper, to great hands-on materials for your learner.

Early skills involve crafts like lacing macaroni noodles onto yarn or thread, which works on the bilateral hand motions needed to learn how to write well.

Allowing your kids to trace shapes in sand or make forms and letters in play dough is another good way to get the fingers ready for holding a pen or pencil correctly. Sand tracing or play dough gives students an opportunity to practice their spelling as well.

Break chalk or crayons into smaller, more manageable pieces. This allows children to practice writing with their fingertips without having to hold the whole pencil just yet. You can even let your little ones play with finger puppets to help those fingers get working.

  • Trace in mazes or connects dots to learn the feel of going in all directions.
  • Teach upper case first since those are mostly straight lines. Then lower case, then numbers.
  • Write on dry-erase boards to get arm movement going, instead of just hand movement.
  • Color within the lines.
  •  For the older writer, allow your student to practice on a vertical easel. This is good for wrist and finger movement and dry erase markers can be a blast.
  • For too much pencil pressure, practice writing on a balloon. For too little pressure, shorten the pencil.
  • Draw a picture of a pencil with a cowboy hat to remind the child to start at the top of each letter.
  • Use Wiki Sticks to form the letters on paper. This is good for memory of each letter.
  • For a two player game, have kids try guessing what letter another child is tracing on their back. This is a fun and social way to get kids to practice their letters.
  • Also, make sure you invest in lots of fun writing options. Rainbow markers, disappearing ink, and magic colors are all types of writing utensils on the market that make the task of fun!

Other writing resources: (Handwriting Without Tears)