the amazing reach of the blogosphere


Holy crapola y’all. I posted a snarky “review” of a book called Nurtureshock: New Thinking About Children, by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman, just yesterday. My comments, as I at least had the sense to say at the time, were not due to an actual reading of the book in question, but upon an interview on salon.com with one of its co-authors, Mr. Bronson. To my utter shock, the book’s co-author, Ashley Merryman, has responded IMMEDIATELY, with a very civil, thorough, and thought-provoking explication of what I had taken issue with. In my blog post. Which isn’t exactly Time magazine, in terms of its number of eyeballs collected. I am humbled and honored by this, and wanted to post Ms. Merryman’s comments in their entirety here so everyone can see them, and hopefully, discuss further. Oh, and buy the book. Thank you Ms. Merryman!

I just wanted to clarify something.

What the research suggests is that overpraising is a problem, because it isn’t sincere praise. I used to tell my tutoring kids that they were really smart just because they got their homework done. That was an exaggeration, not reflective of their work. So now, if they worked hard on that homework, I say, “Wow, Honey, you worked really hard on that didn’t you?” And the kid feels more rewarded, because it showed that I was actually paying attention to what he was doing.

Neither Po nor I — nor any of the researchers we’ve written about — have ever suggested that parents should limit their expressions of love for their children.

What the research indicates is that it can be problematic when people who substitute actual expressions of love/affections with praise, or when they tie the two concepts together (e.g. “You are so smart, and I love you so much”).

This is a concern because it can send a message that our love is conditional –i.e. I love you BECAUSE you are smart. But if that’s true, then the implication is that I WON’T love you if you aren’t smart.

At this point, kids become very concerned with image-maintenance: they won’t allow themselves to make mistakes, because to do so risks their self-image of being smart, talented, etc., and if they lose that, then they will be unloveable.

The research also cautions against combining praise for achievement with encouragement. Meaning it’s fine to say, “Congratulations on your soccer win: you played your heart out.” However, it would be problematic to add “and I’m sure that you’ll do even better next time” because, first, it indicates that what he did then wasn’t actually praiseworthy – again the praise was conditional because it was based on future performance — and there is no guarantee that he will do better next time.

Also, we never wrote that praise was ineffective; that kids didn’t respond to it. Instead, we explained that it can be too effective.

Finally, our book is not a parenting manual; it’s a presentation of scientific process and evidence — and we leave it up to the individual reader to decide if and how to apply the work.

That’s just a fraction of what we write about, but I hope that helps.

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Marketing Mama September 25, 2009 at 4:02 am

So, they probably have a google alert set up to tell them when their names show up on the net! 🙂 I do that for my work and it's awesome!

That was a nice response they gave. And I totally agree with the concept by the way. But like you, the very first time I heard about the concept I scoffed. The article I read was about saying "good job" too much… and now I see it all the time – parents saying "good job" to everything their children do.

I HATE it when my boss says "good job" to me… I'd much rather hear specific comments or thanks for doing certain things.

Also – there are so many kids that do things expecting to get the attention of parents and teachers, it's sad because they aren't feeling the sense of self-confidence and pride in their own work.

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Ashley Merryman September 25, 2009 at 5:10 pm

Thank you very much for your kind note and repost of my comments.

(And Marketing Mama, actually, I just confess to looking for people's reactions to our work. I think it's really important to do so – especially how parents are talking about it –- how the information gets passed on.)

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Anonymous September 26, 2009 at 7:45 pm

Not having read the book either, I completely agree with Ms. Merryman's reposted comments. My two sons went to a fabulous preschool, whose Director already knew many of the pitfalls of praising/commenting in the wrong way – she taught me exactly the same things Ms. Merryman mentioned in her post. For instance, when picking up my youngest son, I made the mistake of saying, "Wow, how did you get SO DIRTY?" The director told me later, "It's best to say, "Wow, you looked like you had a lot of fun today!" because it doesn't make him feel guilty about being dirty. Baths clean children and washers clean clothes. But a wounded spirit is something entirely different." I never forgot that.

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