It's OK to praise, punish

Children need unconditional love at all times, writes Alfie Kohn in the New York Times. Both praise and punishment backfire, he argues.

What’s a parent to do? Love your kids unconditionally and tell them when they’re going wrong or right,  responds Ashley Merryman, co-author of Nurture Shock.

Oberlin College professor Nancy Darling has surveyed thousands of adolescents, in the US, the Philippines, and Chile. She’s found that when parents set no rules, or when parents fail to enforce rules they’ve set, it sends a message that parents simply don’t care about their kids’ well-being or the kids’ actions. The adolescents think the parents just can’t be bothered by their transgressions.

While combining praise with a statement of love is problematic. For example, “You’re such a smart girl, and I love you,” sends a child a message that if she’s no longer is smart, the love will stop. But there’s nothing in the research that says parents should stop saying, “I love you.” It just that they should stop combining displays of love and affection and praise for achievement. Keep them separate.

Merryman notes research by Florrie Ng, who gave IQ tests to children in the U.S. and China.  No matter what the kids’ scores, she told their mothers that the kids did badly.

Then she left the mothers in the room with the kids for five minutes.

The American moms talked to their kids about what they would have for dinner. They talked about the day. They never mentioned the test. The Chinese moms immediately told the kids that the children didn’t do well enough on the test; then the mothers and children sat down to look at where the kids went wrong.

Upon the retest, the Chinese kids improved at twice the rate of the Americans.

While the Chinese mothers focused on their children’s improvement, they were just as warm and supportive as the American mothers, Merryman writes.

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  1. Margo/Mom says:

    Americans believe that IQ is immutable.

  2. One point from Ashley Merryman’s article struck me:

    If teens and college students reported parents regularly withholding their affection and contact, because of the children’s actions, they also reported a certain amount of hostility to their parents. They were also a bit hostile if parents increased their affection when they were succeeding.

    Is it not possible that teens and college students who were hostile towards their parents would be more likely to report said parents as acting in manipulative ways, even if said parents were in fact not any more likely to be manipulative than the parents of teens or college students who were not feeling hostile towards their parents?
    I don’t think we can draw *any* conclusion from the studies referenced, unless there was an independent control for how parents interacted with their children.

  3. Margo has a good point, most Americans do think that you cannot change an IQ score, and it could be the Chinese moms don’t have that opinion.

    I wonder what would have happened if the test hadn’t been labeled an IQ test, but rather just an assessment.


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