Wednesday, May 9, 2012

How Not to Talk to Your Kids

I attended a fabulous writing conference last weekend. I learned a lot, but one class in particular was worth my addmission price. It was taught by the amazing Howard Tayler and had a title a mile long. Since the title didn't intrigue me, I'm not sure why I was drawn to the class. It was a last minute decision, and one that will probably change my life.

I have been on a quest to discover the secret of motivation. What motivates people? What makes people tick? And even more mysterious, what motivates kids?

We have raised an entire generation that is not particularly motivated. (Not your kid of course. It's those other kids I'm talking about.) We have raised them on m&m's. Not just m&m's, but all kinds of rewards. What happens when m&m's are not enough and we can no longer afford the rewards of choice.

Rewards have their place, but the motivation is all external. Real motivation comes from the inside. That is the kind of motivation that money can't buy.

We've also put a lot of emphasis on self esteem. We praise kids for their talent, their smartness, their creativity. Sounds great doesn't it? Who doesn't like to be told they are wonderful?

The problem is, it doesn't work. Howard introduced us to some powerful studies that basically say we've been doing it wrong. Kids who are told they are smart are less motivated and more frustrated than kids who are praised for their efforts. Being praised for working hard is more validating than being praised for your ability. Who knew?

This is big. You can read about the studies in an article called How Not to Talk to Your Kids, here. I think everyone should read this stuff. We can shape the future, and it's so simple. In a nutshell, the article says that we can validate kids (and adults) simply by saying "You worked hard on that."

Really? Really. When kids get good grades or do well on a project, it is tempting to say something like "You must be very smart." If you really want to make a difference it would be better to say "You must have worked hard on that."

Children who are validated for being smart may be frustrated when things don't come easy. They often give up. Children who are validated for working hard are not afraid of a challenge. They keep trying. They work it out.

I cannot wait to try this out in my own laboratory. I hope you try it too. Keep me posted.

What if it works?

Linda Garner


Melissa J. Cunningham said...

Wow! Fantastic post! I'm going to try it. I'll have to step back and see which way I praise. I think I do both, but I'd like to try it your way. Thank you!

Stephsco said...

We're already seeing effects of this in the workplace; you can argue it started with late 70s & '80s born kids like me, but I think more acutely seen in '90s born kids exiting the education system into the workforce.

School provides all kinds of markers and goals to attain, and students constantly receive feedback on performace. All for what -- gaining an entry level job? Not every job is going to fit a college grad's qualifications these days, and if they do, there is no guarantee of advancement right away or at all. Sometimes I see new grads at my work who expect advancement as soon as their training period is over. I've seen a few who assumed because they attended a prestigous university, they should be handed things that took other people years to attain.

On the other side, I also notice a flux of super acheivers who I think don't know what to do with themselves if they aren't working toward the next thing. I'd rather deal with the over acheivers since they're helpful and usually optimistic. It's the ones who feel entitled and don't expect to work hard that are an issue for me. I came from a modest background and didn't expect to earn 50k right out of school.

All you need to do is watch American Idol's auditions to see how many people think they are next big thing to realize half our nation needs a serious reality check!

Christy Monson said...

This was a great class. He had some important things to say. I loved it. Christy