Monday, June 29, 2009

Tries and Fails and Tries Again

Olivia is trying big girl pants for the first time today. She had just one accident (although she did go back into a nappy for her afternoon nap) all day.

Just now, as we tried* to get the girls to sleep, I listened to an interview with the British Psychologist Richard Wiseman on the Skeptic's Guide to the Universe podcast (Episode 204 circa 54:50). Wiseman is promoting a new book, The 59 Seconds: Think a Little, Change a Lot about scientifically sound ways to improve your life. It's like a self-help book only with the key difference that it contains claims that are based on proper research and which actually work, rather than some load of woo pulled out of someone's arse. When asked for an example of the kind of thing that's in the book, he mentioned the idea that you shouldn't praise achievement but effort.

Rather than saying, "Well done, you kept your pants dry all day!" we should be saying, "Well done for trying so hard to keep your pants dry today!" The rationale is that if you praise achievement, the next time they will be scared to put themselves in a position where they fail to win the praise, whereas if you praise the effort, they can always try regardless of actual achievement. Essentially, effort is a variable that is within the child's grasp to control, achievement is not. Not only is this the case, but children brought up to believe that it is achievement that is important actually learn to discount effort; "If I can't achieve it by my natural talents, it reflects poorly on me." Clearly this is a very poor message to communicate to a child!

I'm not pretending this is Earth-shattering stuff - in fact, it seems bloody obvious once it's explained - and nor is Wiseman. What he is saying is that it may be easy but it's actually not very well known. It was pure coincidence that it just so happened that I ended up listening to this podcast on the same day Olivia started wearing big girl pants, but it did make me make a mental note to check exactly what I say to her.

In other news, Grace has two teeth, lower central incisors, with her eye teeth and one upper incisor clearly budding in her gum. Oh, and the kitchen is starting to look much better, though it's difficult to imagine how it can all come together in just three more days...

* and largely failed. K___'s still up there at nearly 9o'clock at night. How do the little sods know when you're trying to get them down early? Oh well; they're normally pretty good these days.


  1. I read about that too some time ago and I have also started correcting myself. Instead of praising my daughter for the As in school, I praise her for studying on her own effort instead of me nagging her. It is working as she is putting in more independent work at school. It is common sense when you think about it now, but I sure needed to read it from a book to realise it.

  2. There's a place for both, I think. Clara went swimming with her school and did her first swimming badge, so she was really pleased about that as an acheivement. Peter, who was really scared of the water, did a 5 day swimming "crash course" and really tried hard even though he was way way out of his comfort zone, and was sometimes in tears in the pool. As you can imagine, I heaped praise on both, and both feel very pleased with themselves, and both seem to understand that effort AND results are worth having. I think what I like is that they value each other's acheivements too; they both see the worth in not only acheiving the badge, but overcoming the fear, and they were proud of each other. Of course, before I give the impression of perfect filial devotion, I should say that Peter came close to throwing a brick at his sister the other day when she wound him up for the umpteenth time about who wsa on the minutely higher swing! But at least they value each other's efforts and acheivements!