Creative Child

How Changing My Language Changed My Child's Outlook

by Deborah Song on Feb 6th, 2015

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Instead of praising her for being smart or talented, I praised her effort. “Good job!” I’d say. “You’re trying so hard!” Or, “I love how you keep trying.” And when she actually accomplished a task, I’d still focus on the effort. “You did it! See what happens when you keep trying?”

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The effects were astounding and immediate. She had been writing her 3’s backwards for quite some time. She scorned my correction and was resistant to try again when I corrected her. But when I praised her for trying first before I focused on correcting her, she was more willing to try again and listen to what I had to say.

When she finally wrote it the right way, I praised her still for how hard she had been working. She kept writing until her entire paper had been blanketed with 3’s. And I gave her stickers based on the number of times she tried, not for the number of times she wrote them correctly. It was a small tweak in language and the way I rewarded her, but there was no denying the message was powerful.

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Could changing how a perfectionist views failure be as simple as changing a few words? I believe in the power of words more than ever now, but those words would’ve carried no weight if my face wore a look of disappointment.

The slight tweak in language, however, backed by the full approval from her parents to fail was incredibly effective. So effective, in fact, I decided to apply this new parenting strategy with vegetables. She doesn’t like them. Ok, she hates them. But I’ve been asking her to try, even ones she has repeatedly rejected in the past. I don’t get upset if she doesn’t eat them or even if she spits it out. I merely thank her for trying and praise her on her willingness to try. I don’t know if she will ever like broccoli. But I’m hoping that the practice of trying new things and being persistent will become part of her daily diet.

Deborah Song is a Los Angeles-based writer and the mother of two girls. She received her master’s in journalism from New York University and writes about parenting, business and kid entrepreneurship. You can read more of her work at lemonadepost.com.

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