Creative Child

How Changing My Language Changed My Child's Outlook

by Deborah Song

Trying to teach my oldest daughter anything has always been a frustrating feat. A perfectionist by nature, Chloe’s nose crinkles, her fists tighten, and the veins on the side of her neck pop out when she can’t get something right the first time around.

I remember the first time she tried to make fuse beads at her new preschool class. I came to pick her up and found her seated at a table with what appeared to be a troupe of fuse bead enthusiasts. "Where did these kids learn to bead so elaborately?", I remember wondering to myself. Chloe’s sparsely beaded board looked even more naked juxtaposed against the color-coded, gussied up fuse bead boards of her classmates. I glanced at her blushed face and panicked. Her clumsy fingers were working as best they could, but she finally threw in the towel, or rather, threw her beads back in the bead box.

The following week, I sat down with her at home, and painstakingly went through the parenting process of begging her to try, praising her every move, even giving her credit for the beads I helped do. I clapped, we high-fived. I did everything short of back flips. It was exhausting but the shameless praise seemed to work. She kept at it. And now fuse beads are her favorite activity.

I didn’t like this parenting strategy, though. In fact, I abhorred it, just the way I abhor hearing about newly minted entitled graduates who constantly need feedback and reassurance from their supervisors. I knew the inspiration had to come from within. But sometimes you continue your bad habits because you simply don’t know what else to do. In my case, I did it because of demanding preschool pressures to make elaborate fuse beads. I did it because I didn’t want her to feel bad about herself. I did it because I was afraid of seeing her fail.

Recently, though, we’ve had a breakthrough. I tried something that was recommended in the parenting book The Up Side of Down: Why Failing Well is the Key to Success,” by Megan McArdle. My new strategy didn’t cost me any money or any more time. I didn’t enroll her in some fancy cognitive class, or have her personality tested and diagnosed in search for profound answers. All I did was change my language when I praised her.

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