How to Negate the Negative Effects of Preschool – Part 5

See the previous post on this topic.  Read this topic from the start.  And now, the continuation…

8. Don’t offer rewards for positive social behaviour

There is a more thorough article on the negative effects of offering rewards for positive social behaviour on Parenting Science which you can read about in depth.  In short, it basically says:

  • empathy and empathic concern is intrinsic in the nature of babies.  From about 12 months onwards, they can recognise distress in others and will try to help.
  • unfortunately, we can inadvertently ruin this intrinsic nature by offering rewards and praise to our children for their offer to help.
  • a study revealed that children who had been used to receiving praise and rewards for being helpful are less likely to help in future, especially where no tangible rewards can be expected.

Dang!  So we’ve been doing it all wrong.

So if you want to raise a more helpful child, the key is not to offer rewards.  The reason being that children are already eager to help without the promise of a reward.  The promise of a reward only serves to undermine their motivation and reduce the quality of their help.

The alternative is to offer praise but even praise can backfire if you use it incorrectly.  Here are some tips on how to praise effectively:

  • Be sincere and specific with your praise – this is generally more important for the older child as younger children don’t question sincerity.
  • Praise kids only for traits they have the power to change – for instance, on their effort for solving a particular problem rather than being intelligent or smart.
  • Use descriptive praise that conveys realistic, attainable standards – for instance, “I liked the way you interpreted that musical piece you played on the piano” as opposed to “Wow!  I’ve never heard anyone play the piano better!”
  • Be careful about praising kids for achievements that come easily as it can make them question their abilities and create doubt where none existed before.
  • Be careful about praising kids for doing what they already love to do as it can have the opposite effect of reducing their enjoyment of the task
  • Encourage kids to focus on mastering skills—not on comparing themselves to others

In essence, this seems to agree with what was recommended by Nurture Shock on the “Inverse Power of Praise“.

Aside from praise, there are other things you can do to encourage children to be helpful.  A common one is “monkey see, monkey do”.  If you want your child to behave a certain way, you have to lead by example (see next point on “being a role model”).  It was also found that children who were raised with parenting practices that displayed empathy and empathic concern were more likely to be helpful.  Parental warmth, having a secure emotional attachment, emotional coaching and inductive discipline are some parenting practices that encourage empathy in children.

If empathic children are more likely to help, then how can we teach children to be empathic?

  • address your child’s needs and teach him how to bounce back from distress – a child who has his emotional needs met and has a secure attachment at home is more likely to be empathic.
  • treat your child as an individual who has a mind of his own – talk to your child about his feelings, desires, goals and how they can influence behaviour.
  • use everyday examples to model sympathetic responses – for instance talk about the feelings of someone who has just be emotionally hurt.
  • help your child discover commonalities with others – we all tend to be more empathic towards people we can identify with as being similar to ourselves.
  • teach your child about the “hot-cold” empathy gap – when you aren’t in a particular situation it can be hard to identify with how a person is feeling.  For instance, a person who has just been fed may find it hard to understand how compelling a hot state like “hunger” can be.  By utilising hot states as examples to teach empathy, it can be easier to drive the message home.  If your child is hungry, he may be better able to appreciate how the people starving in developing nations may feel.  It is also important to teach a child that sometimes avoiding temptation is a smarter decision than trying to resist temptation.  We often underestimate our abilities to control urges and emotions, especially when we’re in the hot state.  For instance, if we can’t resist eating junk food, it is better not to have any available in the house.
  • teach you child about stepping into someone else’s shoes – help your child to see the world from someone else’s point of view.  For instance, you can talk about how a character in a book thinks or feels.
  • teach your child to make faces – encourage your child to make a face while they imagine how someone else might feel.  Physiological studies shows that changes in facial expressions can help us experience the associated emotion, thereby increasing empathy.
  • help your child develop his internal moral compass – this can be done with inductive discipline and by not rewarding behaviours that display social empathy.
  • teach an older child about the mechanisms of moral disengagement – research has shown that normal people can be persuaded to harm others with the right rationale.  It is important to teach a child to be aware of this.
  • inspire good feelings through pleasant social interactions and physical affection – this boosts the level so oxytocin which helps an individual better interpret the emotional signals of others.

Stay tuned for more tips on How to Negate the Negative Effects of Preschool

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Published by Shen-Li

SHEN-LI LEE is the author of “Brainchild: Secrets to Unlocking Your Child’s Potential”. She is also the founder of Figur8.net (a website on parenting, education, child development) and RightBrainChild.com (a website on Right Brain Education, cognitive development, and maximising potentials). In her spare time, she blogs on Forty, Fit & Fed, and Back to Basics.

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