Dr Jonathan Halevy. – Photo courtesy of Family Medical Practice
by Dr Jonathan Halevy*
Every parent wants to encourage their children, see them succeed, perform the best in everything they do, be it a test, a sport or a school performance. Every parent wants their children to be better than anyone else. Numerous studies show that children who are encouraged and motivated by their parents will have better social and academic skills. We know it is so important for their development, self-esteem and future success as adults.
A few months ago, I gave a lecture to teachers at an international school in HCM City. I was talking to them about different types of child abuse. Most people connect child abuse with physical abuse, but there is also less familiar type called “emotional abuse”. When a parent or an adult in charge keeps degrading the child, telling them how bad they are, how stupid and useless they are – it is abuse! It causes a profound psychological trauma to the child’s self- esteem. A trauma that will scar them for the rest of their life. It discourages the child, destroys their self-image and it leads the child to believe they are actually worthless. One of the teachers came to me after the lecture and told me that this was the way his father used to treat him as a child and he thought this was how he should push his students to do better in their studies when they failed. He suddenly realised that it was a terrible way to “encourage” them.
Surprisingly, even when a parent is using positive praise to encourage a child, there are right ways and wrong ways to do this. Dr Carol S. Dweck from Stanford University has conducted numerous studies about “the mindset of success”. She describes two types of “motivating”: Praising the student character (“You got such a high score you are so smart, you are so good”) and encouraging - acknowledging their effort (You did a great job, you worked so hard). The students who were praised for their character were actually doing worse in the following tasks. They rejected challenging tasks, chose easier ones they felt comfortable with and their performance declined. On the other hand, the students who were encouraged for their effort chose more challenging tasks and their performance improved! Telling the student they were smart actually set them up for failure!
How can that be?
When you praise a child’s character (you’ve got a high score – you are so smart) it tells the child that “If I succeed – it means I am smart. So if I fail – it means I’m stupid”. It makes the child afraid of failing and so they will try to avoid taking on challenging complicated tasks, they will stick to the easy tasks they are comfortable with because they doesn’t want to look stupid.
If you encourage your child’s effort (you worked so hard, you did a great job) they will actually try more complicated and challenging tasks because they want to show they can work harder! And if they fail – it’s not because they are stupid, it’s because they need to work harder and find a better way.
We need to be conscious of how we are encouraging our children and choose our words correctly. Every word counts! Even if you are amazed that your child has just finished a 100 piece puzzle all on their own for the first time with no help and you want to applaud them and say “Wow, you did that so quickly, and all by yourself. You are amazing!”, it would actually be better for their development and self-esteem to instead say “Wow, you finished that so quickly. We need to get you a harder puzzle”.
Praise is a comment on the person themselves. It’s finite and it describes the person by their success or failure. Encouragement is a comment about the person's achievement and work and it always leaves room to grow.
My old mentor used to say: “There are no best doctors. Only better.”
How to encourage your child when they fail?
When your child fails, you need to take it not as a negative experience or a disappointment but as an opportunity to help your child grow! Failure is when we need to learn how to cope with difficult situations, how to develop new skills and devise creative solutions, think “out of the box” and become emotionally resilient.
Many parents try too hard to “protect” their children and make their lives “easier” and avoid any kind of hardship. Though it might make the parent feel better, it actually doesn’t help the child. A parent needs to guide their child and teach them how to deal with difficult situations, disappointment and frustration. It is the only way to prepare your child for adulthood. When your child fails in a test or loses in a contest - don’t ignore how they feel. Ask them about their feelings, and then ask them how they think they can make it better the next time. Encourage them to “Get back on the horse” and think of new ways to improve. Encourage them to keep working hard and show you are confident in their abilities. You will help your child become a resilient successful adult who always strives to excel. – Family Medical Practice
*Perhaps the most well-known figure at Family Medical Practice thanks to frequently posting paediatric advice on social media, Dr Jonathan is a graduate of the Sackler School of Medicine of Tel Aviv University, then undergoing his residency in the Pediatric Department of the Wolfson Medical Center in Israel, earning his certification as a specialist in paediatrics. He first joined Family Medical Practice in 2005 and returned in 2013 following a short period in Melbourne.
Family Medical Practice was the first foreign-owned primary healthcare provider in Việt Nam, and has consistently remained at the forefront of international-standard medicine since 1995. It offers extensive healthcare and emergency medical services nationwide to Vietnamese, expatriate and corporate customers.
For more advice on any medical topics, visit Family Medical Practice Hanoi at: 298 I Kim Mã, Ba Đình. Tel: (024) 3843 0748. E: firstname.lastname@example.org.
FMP’s downtown Hồ Chí Minh City location is: Diamond Plaza, 34 Lê Duẩn, District 1; 95 Thảo Điền, District 2. Tel: (028) 38227848. E: email@example.com
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