In my latest examination of Alyson Schafer's suggestions for encouraging our children, I need to examine one that is a little problematic for me. For me. Not the parenting advice. At a teacher, commending effort is fine, and I believe teachers should commend effort. But the dark side of that is those that believe effort equates with success. Effort does not equate with entitlement, and entitlement is a problem teachers encounter on a regular basis. It seems to be becoming pervasive in the classroom. Now I sound like an old crotchety teacher (now I am an old crotchety teacher?) On the flip side, commending effort is backhanded way some teachers can say something isn't very good. Teachers can simply commend the student on their effort rather than the work they did. Gee, Jenny, I see you worked very hard on that biology lab: 53%.
I would prefer to not head too far down that path, and I'd like to instead focus on the parenting and commending effort. But I did want to express my apprehension of commending effort before I explored it from a parenting perspective.
I appreciate what Schafer is trying to impart to parents. It is important for children to see that their effort will reap rewards. I often try to commend my twins for their patience, especially when it relates activities involving their little brother. Sometimes I need to focus on our littlest one and the twins simply have to wait. Waiting can be a challenge for 4 1/2 year old. Sometimes the twins are less successful at being patient that others, but I appreciate their efforts and commend them accordingly.
In "The Secret to Raising Smart Kids" Carol Dweck states, "our studies show that teaching people to have a "growth mind-set," which encourages a focus on effort rather than on intelligence or talent, helps make them into high achievers in school and in life." I like how later in the article Dweck describes two kinds of praise, praising stable traits (e.g. You are a good soccer player.) and praising process. Her research found that praising traits can lead to a child being fragile or defensive. Praising process, on the other hand, can help a child overcome challenges.
I'm less successful at commending effort when it comes to activities such as art. I try to comment on focus or attention, but I find it hard to not make positive qualitative comments about their work. Dweck has one example of commending effort that appear to my lay eyes to be a positivist comment ("You did a good job drawing. I like the detail you added to the people's faces."). Other examples are far more effort-oriented (I like the way you tried a lot of different strategies on that math problem until you finally got it."). Twin M is very critical of his own work and he can be very focused on it. As a parent who wants his children to be happy, I want to tell him that his art looks great. And to me, it does. It wasn't that long ago that he ate crayons rather than colored with them. But he may be dissatisfied, occasionally resulting in a tantrum. His opinion is valuable and I shouldn't be quick to dismiss it as a mean to ease his frustration. He should be the judge of his own art.
That doesn't mean I can't say I don't like it; it just means I need to refrain from positivist statements of quality that undermine his judgment. Instead, I should focus on his attention, his focus and work ethic. But in the moment, that can be hard, and I need to accept that he will be disappointment and I can't fix everything. I need to be skillful at commending his effort so when he is disappointed, he will persevere until he accomplishes his goal to his satisfaction. And I know it won't be too long before he is teaching me something about technology, and I hope he commends my effort as well as my success.