Who Ever Said Parents or Kids Have to Be Perfect?
The media has had a blast over the years poking fun at the 1950s parent. According to the stereotype, the 1950s mom was obsessed with serving nutritious meals, keeping her home clean and clutter-free, and hanging on to every word of the all-knowing childrearing experts. Meanwhile, the 1950s dad always had time for the kids (once he arrived home from work and had a chance to read the newspaper in peace: some things were sacrosanct).
But after that: fun was definitely dad's department. He was also expected to
strong, capable and wise (or at least, that was the image he was expected to
portray). Parental competence was, after all, one of the key ingredients in the
cement that held together the 1950s family. You couldn't have moms and dads
making mistakes, or—worse—admitting mistakes in front of the children, now could
As it turns out, a good healthy dose of parental fallibility is just what kids need in order to thrive—or, more specifically, to develop into healthy risk-takers themselves. Making mistakes in front of your kids teaches them that the world doesn't come to an end just because mom or dad happens to be a mere mortal.
In fact, teaching them how to sidestep the tyranny of perfectionistic thinking early on in life is one of the nicest things you can do for your kids. If your child doesn't have to focus on his fear of failing, he can simply enjoy the process and doing his best.
So does this mean that you should be your child's number one cheerleader, tirelessly applauding his efforts, whether he succeeds or fails?
It depends on the type of praise you're offering. Stanford developmental psychologist Carol Dweck has discovered that too much of the wrong type of praise can be a bad thing for kids.
Dweck discovered that praising a child for a supposed innate ability ("You must be very smart") can zap a child's motivation. After all, if you're smart today, surely you'll still be smart next week. What's the point in actually studying for that test?
Of course, the "smart" label causes some kids to become unduly anxious. Their reaction is to worry that they are no longer smart or to become convinced that they weren't really smart in the first place (it was a big mistake) and that they are about to be outed as the dumbest kids on the planet.
Praising the effort or the specific achievement ("You must have worked really hard" or "You ran that race in 35 seconds—your best time ever!") gives the child specific feedback on their effort or performance on that particular occasion. The child is more likely to be motivated to want to repeat or improve on that performance.
After all, we're talking real-world kids here who, like their real-world parents, are gloriously imperfect and unpredictable.
That's what makes the journey we take together so much fun.
So what do you think? Do you feel that making a mistake in front of your kids costs you anything in terms of credibility? Do we over-praise our kids or do we simply over-do it with the wrong types of praise (as Dweck suggests)?