Innoculation against external messaging

Posted by: aquinas

Innoculation against external messaging - 08/17/13 08:43 PM

As a carryover from a discussion on pp.24 of the quirky anecdote thread, how have parents addressed toxic external messaging from outsiders across ages?

DS21mo is constantly on the receiving end of hyperbolic praise from strangers. I imagine we're not unique in this regard in the community, and I foresee "dealing with external messaging related to identity" effectively being a way of life for our children.

Perhaps it's best to split the sources of messaging into 2 groups, as the strategies we use will be different depending on whether the "messengers" are:

1. Significant influences to our DC (parents, grandparents, teachers, etc), or
2. Others



Posted by: 22B

Re: Innoculation against external messaging - 08/17/13 10:00 PM

Why is praise "toxic"?

This seems to be the opposite problem to what some have where people refuse to acknowledge their children's abilities.
Posted by: ColinsMum

Re: Innoculation against external messaging - 08/18/13 12:41 AM

Originally Posted By: 22B
Why is praise "toxic"?

This seems to be the opposite problem to what some have where people refuse to acknowledge their children's abilities.

Note the phrase was "hyperbolic praise", probably meaning the "o wow you're a GENIUS you're bound to win a Nobel prize" kind - but I think the more ordinary kind can by toxic too.

In very brief:

- That kind sets up unrealistic expectations and sets the child up for disappointment, or if they see through the hyperbole, for mistrust of what people say in general

- "You're smart" (especially repeated thousands of times by different people) encourages a fixed, not a growth, mindset. ("I succeed because I'm smart; if I fail at something, it will threaten my reality by suggesting I'm not smart after all") There's actually decent research showing [in one experimental setting, blah blah] that telling people they're smart after they've done something makes them less likely to accept a challenge.

- Even the usually approved "you worked so hard at that; I love how you made the grass orange" kind isn't completely innocuous: one can be training one's child to prefer someone else's judgement over their own, and to need someone else's approval of what they do instead of just enjoying it.

The most typical kind of acknowledgement people here want of their children's abilities is the kind that gets them appropriate education, which is very different.

A polemic on this, with discussion of research but not impartial discussion, is Kohn's Punished by Rewards
http://www.alfiekohn.org/books/pbr.htm

On fixed v growth I recommend Dweck's book Self-theories. (This is her "scholarly" book on the subject; there's also the popularising Mindsets, which I haven't read but which others have recommended here.)
http://www.amazon.com/Self-theories-Motivation-Personality-Development-Psychology/dp/1841690244/
Posted by: aquinas

Re: Innoculation against external messaging - 08/18/13 05:20 AM

Thanks ColinsMum. I've read a few Dweck articles and will look into the book you recommended.
Posted by: lilmisssunshine

Re: Innoculation against external messaging - 08/18/13 06:00 AM

In my case, people often comment about my children's looks. About 85% of the time I'm out with them, someone will stop me and say, "My god, your children are stunning. You should get them into modeling." or some variation of that. It's flattering (and of course, I think they're gorgeous), but I also don't want them to think that they're only a pretty face.

After 4 years of this, I've now started replying something along the lines of, "Yes, we're really lucky. They're also bright and well-behaved." or if I'm feeling cheeky, "They're so lucky. They got their father's looks and their mother's brains."

I would expect that you can deflect the intelligence comments with something like, "Well, everyone has to work hard to reach their full potential..."

Posted by: momoftwins

Re: Innoculation against external messaging - 08/18/13 06:37 AM

Now that my twins are 6.5 yrs old, they don't elicit as many spontaneous "Oh, he is SO smart" comments, but when they were younger, I would usually say something like "He is really interested in learning," or "he likes to read," or "he loves (subject X). I think that type of comment hit a peak at age 4 - once they turned five and acted "older" their comments just weren't as shocking to others, as they didn't appear so young.
Posted by: aquinas

Re: Innoculation against external messaging - 08/18/13 08:07 AM

Thanks all for the feedback. Perhaps I should specify that I'm not concerned about responding to the comments from strangers, but rather am focusing on how to help our children avoid internalizing the comments. An effective retort is a good first-line defence, but more is needed.

I'd be interested to hear, particularly, about the different approaches parents have used to manage frequent excessive praise from relatives and authority figures, like teachers and coaches versus strangers' comments. ColinsMum makes a good point about promoting a growth mindset.
Posted by: Floridama

Re: Innoculation against external messaging - 08/18/13 08:11 AM

I try to get my children to understand that the views/opinions/words of other's are not the whole picture...and not just with praise.
If they are able to understand someone else's perspective separate from their own, then I believe that they are less likely to be affected by it.
We often talk about people's (real life and on TV) comments, actions, choice of dress, in an objective sense as way to understand others.
The down side is that my kids now consider me a biased source for praise LOL
Posted by: Zen Scanner

Re: Innoculation against external messaging - 08/18/13 08:34 AM

Similar to Floridama, DS understands that people are biased and often uninformed. He understands things like brain plasticity and that even his crazy math skills are some aptitude combined with his passionate pursuit of the topic.

I try to give him unbiasable feedback. I own my own emotional response to something he does and he can place his own value on that: "I'm happy you did X... I'm amazed at how well your work seems to have payed off... I'm impressed you've come so far...." I think sarcasm and lots of joking help, because that keeps him practiced on evaluating the source and intent of a message, and comes naturally to us. I grew up highly uncomfortable with praise and took me many years to overcome self-deprecation or excusing away success. I think some of that was from a survival instinct to not be focused on the wrong side of the stick.
Posted by: HowlerKarma

Re: Innoculation against external messaging - 08/18/13 08:40 AM

Originally Posted By: aquinas
Thanks all for the feedback. Perhaps I should specify that I'm not concerned about responding to the comments from strangers, but rather am focusing on how to help our children avoid internalizing the comments. An effective retort is a good first-line defence, but more is needed.

I'd be interested to hear, particularly, about the different approaches parents have used to manage frequent excessive praise from relatives and authority figures, like teachers and coaches versus strangers' comments. ColinsMum makes a good point about promoting a growth mindset.


In our experience, there IS no great, foolproof way to do that.

The more unusual your child is, the more these messages will resonate with them (because let's face it, high intellectual ability often comes with perceptiveness and a great deal of insight per unit age)...

ergo, they KNOW that they are unlike their peers. They know that they are more capable, that others seem "slow" comparatively, etc.

Further, this lends credence to the value judgments pronounced by others because they are plausible.

ETA: My DD relies upon her dad and I as a rock in this respect-- we will always give her an unvarnished opinion of her performance/results. Our standards are VERY high. If she does a half-baked job on a school assignment, I'm likely to be more honest than the teacher is.

So when I offer praise-- she KNOWS that it's genuine.

Posted by: Quantum2003

Re: Innoculation against external messaging - 08/18/13 01:16 PM

I am not sure that there is an effective innoculation until the child has acquired the intellectual/emotional ability/level/sophistication to comprehend/internalize that you cannot assume the truth/correction of anything you hear/read. While I cannot pinpoint when it occurred, it was obvious to me that DS10 was over that particular hurdle at age 5. Fortunately when he was very young, I don't think that he particularly cared or paid attention to strangers' comments. These days, I don't need to say a word as while DS remains polite, he does get this look (not as rude/obvious as eye-rolling) that confirms that he recognizes the hyperbole.
Posted by: ultramarina

Re: Innoculation against external messaging - 08/18/13 02:33 PM

Quote:
we will always give her an unvarnished opinion of her performance/results. Our standards are VERY high. If she does a half-baked job on a school assignment, I'm likely to be more honest than the teacher is.


Yeah. This is one of my few tiger-mom areas. If DD does a cruddy job on something, I do tend to tell her it isn't her best work, even when I know she would get a fine grade on it. She doesn't like this, of course, and sometimes she gets really mad at me, and I wonder if I'm being a jerk.

I don't necessarily make her re-do it. I just give her some honesty, because someone needs to not be throwing glitter at her all the time when she phones it in.

Posted by: DeeDee

Re: Innoculation against external messaging - 08/18/13 03:54 PM

Originally Posted By: ultramarina

I don't necessarily make her re-do it. I just give her some honesty, because someone needs to not be throwing glitter at her all the time when she phones it in.


LOL, glitter. I think the honest measure is very important. We are striving for frankness at our house too.

At the same time, my DS11 needs calibration about where the "enough effort" line is. I could see him phoning it in at a job someday. I could also see him becoming an extreme workaholic because he was so afraid someone wouldn't like his work. What I'd like for him is in between. We try to talk with him about where the "good enough" line would be for a given task...

In my own life I had to learn to find "adequacy." I kind of wish that for him too.

DeeDee
Posted by: ultramarina

Re: Innoculation against external messaging - 08/18/13 04:44 PM

Yes, I agree that it can be tricky. You don't want them to then go the other way either. And sometimes it's okay to let it go, especially with a dumb assignment. What I don't let go is repeatedly sloppy work in quantity OR a half-assed job on an interesting assignment.
Posted by: ultramarina

Re: Innoculation against external messaging - 08/18/13 04:51 PM

(I'm not going all Joan Crawford on her either. I just don't hand out praise all over the place when it's not due. I'll tell her it's okay and she'll probably do fine, but I don't think she really tried too hard. Or I'll ask her if she thinks it was her best work. If I'm lucky I can work in some humor and disarm her into admitting that she phoned it in. She's getting a lot better about that.
Posted by: HowlerKarma

Re: Innoculation against external messaging - 08/18/13 06:33 PM

Yeah-- my DD will almost always give me this cat-into-the-canary-cage expression and then turn sheepish.... Aw shucks, ya caught me...

I always ask her (under those circumstances in which-- er, "glitter" seems somewhat excessive--) What do you think of (your effort on this/how that went/what happened)?

The closest I've come to Joan Crawford (er-- or for that matter, Amy Chua) was when I told my DD after a piano recital that I thought she owed Wolfy's ghost a major apology for profaning his work.

I also made her go home and play it the way I know she can play it-- and pointed out that she kinda wasted the awesome rate of return on the grand at the recital... bummer to play the alla Turca on an upright.

It doesn't seem to have harmed her any-- because it was said with a great deal of humor, and with a "Well, no, it wasn't good. But-- you DID keep going. You didn't stop and burst into tears when the wheels came off. Good recovery. I'm sure that Wolfy will be happy to accept your apology. I hear that he really likes improv." wink

She still loves the piano sonata in A, still plays it regularly at breakneck speed and it's a favorite warm-up for her now. So it's all good. She also learned a good lesson-- make excellence YOUR benchmark, and don't worry about each individual performance. Nothing awful happens if you make mistakes. But don't put nail polish on that sucker and call it a beauty queen, either. LOL.

Posted by: aquinas

Re: Innoculation against external messaging - 08/19/13 08:46 PM

Originally Posted By: HowlerKarma
In our experience, there IS no great, foolproof way to do that.

The more unusual your child is, the more these messages will resonate with them (because let's face it, high intellectual ability often comes with perceptiveness and a great deal of insight per unit age)...

ergo, they KNOW that they are unlike their peers. They know that they are more capable, that others seem "slow" comparatively, etc.

Further, this lends credence to the value judgments pronounced by others because they are plausible.


I'd be lying to say I didn't hope otherwise. I suppose I'll fall back on the old saw of repeating healthy messaging at home and framing others' comments in a way that promotes an internal locus of control.

As I posted in the quirky anecdote thread, DS is already showing signs of internalizing other thoughtless and shaming comments delivered by my father. I feel that this is something I have to address now, even if just through sheer propaganda, until he's mature enough to really engage in a thoughtful two-way discussion. (That and muzzle my father.)
Posted by: aquinas

Re: Innoculation against external messaging - 08/19/13 08:50 PM

Originally Posted By: Quantum2003
I am not sure that there is an effective innoculation until the child has acquired the intellectual/emotional ability/level/sophistication to comprehend/internalize that you cannot assume the truth/correction of anything you hear/read. While I cannot pinpoint when it occurred, it was obvious to me that DS10 was over that particular hurdle at age 5. Fortunately when he was very young, I don't think that he particularly cared or paid attention to strangers' comments. These days, I don't need to say a word as while DS remains polite, he does get this look (not as rude/obvious as eye-rolling) that confirms that he recognizes the hyperbole.


I think you're on the mark. DS seems sensitive to others' comments--he's visibly put off by the excessive attention and fawning over what is treated as quotidian at home--so I'll need to carve out a roadmap for those years from 2-5.

ETA: I don't mean for any of this to be construed as my not recognizing or praising DS' efforts/achievements. Far from it. I'm a cheerleader for whatever is new, exciting, and challenging. But I--and strangers and family-- don't need to hoot like a ninny every time DS reads a sign, does math, or uses a tricky word appropriately. He knows he can, we know he can, and DH and I show our pride by following his lead encouragingly. I think this is probably implicitly understood, so I'm likely being redundant. smile
Posted by: MumOfThree

Re: Innoculation against external messaging - 08/19/13 10:10 PM

There is indeed a very clear line (to me!) between genuine and useful encouragement and "Wow what an entertaining little sideshow freak you are! Show us another trick!"

We've luckily no had family members incline to the 2nd behaviour Andy third, the only one inclined to getting attention from strangers in public mostly gets "my what a little character!!" People seem to be at a loss for words for how outgoing and communicative she is rather than noting unusual vocab etc (and she's not reading yet, despite threatening to 2 years ago).