A workshop at Yew Chung International School Beijing (YCIS) challenged parents to take a different approach to boosting their children’s self-esteem: not by praising them, but by learning how to criticize them more positively.
The workshop was presented by Caroline Wu Beloe, a Certified Professional Coach and mindfulness teacher, and was based on the ideas of Dr. Martin Seligman. Dr. Seligman believes that a generation of parents, in focusing on their children’s feelings rather than their achievements, are actually reducing their ability to deal with challenge and making them more prone to depression.
Beloe gave the example of a child trying out for his school football team at his parents’ insistence, even though he knows he is not good at football. When he doesn’t make the cut, his father insists that he will make the team next year. The child is frustrated at not being listened to, and downcast at the prospect of having to go through the embarrassment again.
Seligman argues that challenge and failure are part of life, and that rather than constantly praising our children we should be helping them to be more resilient and optimistic. His approach centers around the three P’s: Permanence, Pervasiveness and Personalization.
For example, a child recently arrived in Beijing might take the pessimistic view that “I’ll never make friends here” (Permanence). A helpful response might be: “it takes time to make friends in a new city.”
Similarly, a pessimistic child struggling with their homework might think “I’m terrible at Math.” Parents can help by reducing the Pervasiveness of the problem: “you find fractions a bit more difficult, don’t you?”
The third aspect, Personalization, reflects how much children blame themselves for problems. So instead of “Bill hates me”, they should be encouraged to think “Bill was having a bad day today.”
The same principle applies when it comes to criticism. For some parents it was surprising that they were being told to criticize their children, however positively, but Beloe emphasized that, for example, an untidy room is a genuine problem which needs to be addressed. Instead of saying though “you never tidy your room” (Permanence) it’s better to say “your room’s a mess right now, you need to tidy it up.”
Beloe offered tips to help children increase their optimism, for example by teaching them to “catch their thoughts” and evaluate them. It was a provocative and fascinating workshop, which challenged parents to think of “doing well leading to feeling good” rather than “feeling good leading to doing well.”
Photos: amenclinicsphotos ac (Flickr) and courtesy of YCIS