This is the third post in a not-quite series about nurturing my kids’ talents and encouraging their interests. First we talked about how nurturing creativity sometimes looks like a big mess. Next I shared the mantra that keeps me from freaking out.
I’ve been geeking out on deliberate practice lately, a field that has dizzying implications for how I parent, coach, and encourage my kids. All of the authors emphasized the importance of nurturing kids’ interests (while questioning whether there was such a thing as natural talent), and doing it right, because it’s alarmingly easy for these attempts at encouragement to have the opposite effect.
Daniel Coyle cut this advice down to just a few lines in The Talent Code:
“Carol Dweck, the psychologist who studies motivation, likes to say that all the world’s parenting advice can be distilled to two simple rules: pay attention to what your children are fascinated by, and praise them for their effort.
To which I would add, tell them how the myelin mechanism works.”
This sounds so doable. I can–and do–pay attention to what fascinates my kids. (This is one of the most interesting parts of parenting, to see what captures my children’s attention. Agree?)
Praising them for their effort sounds deceptively simple. Praise is a tricky thing: Dweck’s work has demonstrated how praising children for a particular trait (for example, being smart) often backfires, causing the child to lose interest and put in less effort at whatever they’re doing. It’s crucial to offer praise for replicable actions instead, like working diligently, or not giving up. (This applies to all ages, not just kids.)
Practice Perfect also addresses the importance of differentiating between acknowledgement and praise. You acknowledge when your child meets expectations (for example, for making their bed) but you praise when they go above and beyond (like not losing their cool when their sibling was bating them).
And what’s this stuff about myelin? It’s a substance that deliberate practice builds in our brains. Kids need to know that the brain grows when it’s challenged. My kids need to understand that it’s okay when things are hard, because the best way to get better at anything is to work through the hard stuff. (I’m thinking about fractions right now.)
I do these things imperfectly, I’m sure, but I think I’m on the right track. I hope so.
What you were fascinated by as a kid? What are the little people in your life fascinated by? What ways have you found to encourage (and praise) their interests?