Most folks want to raise healthy children who are fueled more by intrinsic desires than extrinsic ones. What on earth would make someone a non-learner? Babies don’t worry about making mistakes or humiliating themselves. They walk, they fall, they get up, and they fall again. What could put an end to this exuberant learning?
The people I know that are the happiest are fulfilled by the inherent satisfaction of the activity itself. Completing paperwork associated with grant writing may seem like drudgery to many but to my colleagues we derive immense satisfaction from the process. Can you think of other examples of tasks that may seem mundane but give you a sense of accomplishment and the satisfaction of being part of something bigger than yourself? Maybe, organizing a trash pick-up day in the neighborhood? Completing a complicated jigsaw puzzle? Taking a class not required by your employer? Finishing your taxes? Ok, I went too far with the thought process on that one.
So what are some ways to create more intrinsic desires than extrinsic ones in our children?
Should I give a kid an allowance? Having a little of their own money (and I mean a little amount depending on age – someone told me no more than a dollar for every year of age) offers the freedom and autonomy over how the money is used as well as life lessons about cash flow.
Are chores good for kids? Chores help kids learn that families are about helping one another and for nurturing a shared responsibility for the home. But don’t combine allowance with chores as it creates an “if-then “system that never works out. RM and I learned that lesson the hard way. Withhold an allowance for not completing a chore one week, and the next week you have a child that refuses again (and again). However, there may be ways to incentivize kids. One time RM challenged his young daughters to find loose nails in the backyard during a home remodeling project. He told them he would pay them a dime a nail. The girls designed a magnet connected to the end of a stick and scoured the yard for nails. Their piggy banks were full and our back yard was nail free.
How should we praise our children? Psychologist Carol Dweck offers a how-to list for offering praise:
- Praise effort and strategy, not intelligence. Avoid praising your child for being smart because if they encounter a problem at some point in their life that they can’t solve (and they will!), they will feel dumb and will not try again. Kids who understand that hard work leads to growth are more willing to try.
- Make praise specific. Don’t use generalities but tell them specifically what they’ve done that’s noteworthy.
- Praise in private. Praise is feedback not an award ceremony.
- Offer praise only when there’s a good reason for it. Be sincere – or keep quiet.
Carol Dweck and her team at Columbia University conducted research on 400 fifth-graders in which the children took three tests. The second test purposely was made difficult enough that every child failed. What the scientists found was that kids who had been praised for their effort recovered from that failure by the third test to achieve scores 30% higher than on their first test. Meanwhile, the students who were praised for their intelligence had scores that were 20% lower. Ms. Dweck’s conclusion: You should praise children for qualities they can control, like effort. Those praised for their innate brainpower might develop the sense that hard work isn’t necessary.
If you want to learn more about Dweck’s decades of research then read: Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. She also has a website, http://www.mindsetonline.com. She offers steps for moving from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset that sees encounters as opportunities for improvement or what we call the “OFI” mindset at work.
So, I hope this week, in the Lone Star state, as our children complete their first round of mandated state assessments, that we remember as adults to praise their efforts and hard work so that we raise our children with an intrinsic desire for a life of exuberant learning.