The Sydney Morning Herald splashed with a yarn on Saturday warning that “helicopter parents not doing enough to let children fail”.
Dr Suzy Green, Co-Founder of the Positive Psychology Institute, argues that positive psychology involves much more than simply praising children. She writes:
“Many of you may have read in the weekend’s papers about concerns for too much praise of children leading to a generation (Ys) with an inflated sense of their abilities.
Whilst the Positive Psychology movement is a strengths-based psychology that suggests we focus our attention onto our strengths rather than our weaknesses, it does not suggest that we disregard or deny areas for development, particularly when it comes to the development of virtues.
Someone with a strong sense of self has self-awareness and understands both their strengths and weaknesses. We need to help children understand that we’re all human with strengths and weaknesses. Yes, we need to help them to identify their strengths, particularly character strengths such as honesty, kindness and modesty and we also need to help them with strategies to overcome adversity and to assist with failure, which is a part of life.
Carol Dweck, a Professor of Psychology, has conducted decades of research on achievement and success. She has identified two types of “mindsets”: 1) a fixed mindset – where one believes basic qualities like intelligence or talent are fixed traits; and 2) a growth mindset – where one believes qualities can be developed through dedication and hard work; brains and talent are just the starting point. She has published a book called “Mindset” and you can also access more information here.
Carol Dweck and her team at Columbia University in the US completed a study of 400 fifth-graders in which the children took 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.
However, the students who were praised for their intelligence had scores that were 20% lower.
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.”