The school year came to an end about 3 weeks ago for K1 and K2. One of the the complaints that K1 had over the course of the year was the lack of feedback from her piano teacher and another teacher at school. By feedback she meant praise.
I mentally rolled my eyes when I heard it and said nothing. Whatever happened to just sucking it up and doing it - or doing it for the sake of doing it well? After all, it is getting hard to distinguish praise from positive feedback these days.
Here are some of my favorites from Lori Gottlieb’s article:
...all of this worry about creating low self-esteem might actually perpetuate it. No wonder my patient Lizzie told me she felt “less amazing” than her parents had always said she was. Given how “amazing” her parents made her out to be, how could she possibly live up to that? Instead of acknowledging their daughter’s flaws, her parents, hoping to make her feel secure, denied them. “I’m bad at math,” Lizzie said she once told them, when she noticed that the math homework was consistently more challenging for her than for many of her classmates. “You’re not bad at math,” her parents responded. “You just have a different learning style. We’ll get you a tutor to help translate the information into a format you naturally understand.”
With much struggle, the tutor helped Lizzie get her grade up, but she still knew that other classmates were good at math and she wasn’t. “I didn’t have a different learning style,” she told me. “I just suck at math! But in my family, you’re never bad at anything. You’re just better at some things than at others. If I ever say I’m bad at something, my parents say, ‘Oh, honey, no you’re not!’”
Yet the kids seem to know when praise is genuine and when it’s not. At summer horse camp the counselors used to give out ribbons to everyone for something vague like “most improved in …” Fill in the blanks with your favorite. This supposedly protected them them from the “ravages of competition” and kept them from competing with each other. (In elementary school, they play kick ball but the PE teacher prohibited them from keeping score - but some kids kept score anyway and would shout it out. Then PE teacher would then say “We are not keeping score!”) One of the things that surprised me then was what would happen when they actually competed? They went in for a horse competition and got thirds or fourths or even fifths. (There are only 5 riders in each competition.) I was glad to hear them say something like “Finally, a ribbon that actually means something!”.
From the article:
Last month, I spoke to a youth soccer coach in Washington, D.C. A former competitive college athlete and now a successful financier, he told me that when he first learned of the youth league’s rules—including no score-keeping—he found them “ridiculous.”
How are the kids going to learn? he thought. He valued his experience as an athlete, through which he had been forced to deal with defeat. “I used to think, If we don’t keep score, we’re going to have a bunch of wusses out there. D.C. can be very PC, and I thought this was going too far.”
Eventually, though, he came around to the new system, because he realized that some kids would be “devastated” if they got creamed by a large margin. “We don’t want them to feel bad,” he said. “We don’t want kids to feel any pressure.” (When I told Wendy Mogel about this, she literally screamed through the phone line, “Please let them be devastated at age 6 and not have their first devastation be in college! Please, please, please let them be devastated many times on the soccer field!”) I told the coach this sounded goofy, given that these kids attend elite, competitive schools like Georgetown Day School or Sidwell Friends, where President Obama’s daughters go. They’re being raised by parents who are serious about getting their kids into Harvard and Yale. Aren’t these kids exposed to a lot of pressure? And besides, how is not keeping score protecting anyone, since, as he conceded, the kids keep score on their own anyway? When the score is close, the coach explained, it’s less of an issue. But blowouts are a problem.
He told me about a game against a very talented team. “We lost 10–5, and the other team dominated it. Our kids were very upset. They said, ‘We got killed!’ and I said, ‘What are you talking about? You guys beat the spread! The team we beat last week lost 14–1!’ The kids thought about this for a second and then were like, ‘You’re right, we were great! We rule!’ They felt so much better, because I turned it around for them into something positive. When you get killed and there’s no positive spin, the kids think they’re failures. It damages their self-esteem.”
At the end of the season, the league finds a way to “honor each child” with a trophy. “They’re kind of euphemistic,” the coach said of the awards, “but they’re effective.” The Spirit Award went to “the troublemaker who always talks and doesn’t pay attention, so we spun it into his being very ‘spirited,’” he said. The Most Improved Player Award went to “the kid who has not an ounce of athleticism in his body, but he tries hard.” The Coaches’ Award went to “the kids who were picking daisies, and the only thing we could think to say about them is that they showed up on time. What would that be, the Most Prompt Award? That seemed lame. So we called it the Coaches’ Award.” There’s also a Most Valuable Player Award, but the kid who deserved it three seasons in a row got it only after the first season, “because we wanted other kids to have a chance to get it.” The coach acknowledged that everyone knew who the real MVP was. But, he said, “this is a more collaborative approach versus the way I grew up as a competitive athlete, which was a selfish, Me Generation orientation.”
I asked Wendy Mogel if this gentler approach really creates kids who are less self-involved, less “Me Generation.” No, she said. Just the opposite: parents who protect their kids from accurate feedback teach them that they deserve special treatment. “A principal at an elementary school told me that a parent asked a teacher not to use red pens for corrections,” she said, “because the parent felt it was upsetting to kids when they see so much red on the page. This is the kind of self-absorption we’re seeing, in the name of our children’s self-esteem.”