Wednesday, March 09, 2011
Last week, I attended a dinner / parenting workshop with some of the local, New York chapter, MotherhoodLater.com moms. It was a wonderful event, with an equally wonderful speaker, Lisa Levine-Bernstein. During Lisa’s presentation, among many other important topics, the issue of praise came up. I have read many times in my 20-odd parenting books that when you praise a child for any reason, it should always be specific. As an example, if your child comes home with a picture they drew at school, instead of saying, “Great job!” you should instead say, “Wow! I love the colors you chose for the butterfly!” It gives the child positive feedback regarding their work and makes it specific enough so that they can use that information in many other ways in the future.
We also discussed praise in terms of the amount, frequency and times when you know your child could do a better job. Lisa’s advice was to try not to over praise your child because then they begin to expect it. Try to dish out praise modestly and with sincerity. And the point that hit home for me was giving your child feedback when you know he or she could have done a better job. You want to tell them that although they did well, they could possibly have done better. This gray area has always been a difficult one for me.
My son belongs to our local Boy Scouts troop. And I must admit, although I have never attended a meeting, from what I gather from my husband and other parents, my son’s “pack” is highly disorganized and unstructured. So unstructured that while most other troops were given notice weeks ahead of time that the yearly Pinewood Derby Car event would be taking place this past weekend, my son’s “pack” was given less than 2 weeks notice.
Now, for those of you who know nothing about these Derby races, there is a lot of work involved, mostly of the parental type. You have to go out and buy a Boy Scout approved Derby kit. Then the parent has to not only have the access, but time and tools to carve out a car from a block of wood, sand it, paint it, seal it, decorate it, and, most importantly, make sure that it falls within a very precise weight range. And you can purchase weights to add to the car if it falls short of this range. Well, my son had all of a week and a half to work on this car with his father and grandfather. And as you can see, they created quite an impressive car given the short amount of time they had to complete it!
The day of the race came this past Sunday. My son was so excited, he had his full Boy Scout uniform on at 8 am! We didn’t even have to be at the event until 1 pm! But my son insisted on keeping his uniform on the whole morning and ate very little so that he wouldn’t “mess up” his clothes.
We arrived at the event just on time. His car had to be weighed to make sure that it met the weight requirements. It passed. Then there was more waiting. The older troops had their cars race first. And because this was a district race, each district had to have their cars race, slowly weaning out the cars that didn’t finish within the top three. And this arduous process continued, filtering down to the younger troops.
Since my son was in the next to youngest group, we literally had to wait close to 2 hours before his car was up. It was torture for my poor son. Then, at long last, it was my son’s turn for his car!
They announced which lane his car would be in; I had my video camera poised and ready. Then down came the cars in a flash! My son placed third! He was eligible to compete against other cars once the slower cars were weaned out!
His car was up again. He placed third twice in a row! This was a good omen because if you stay in the top three, you continue to race the other cars that also placed first, second or third!
Again, they called his name and slot his car would be in! I tried crossing my toes because I had to hold the video camera! Down came the Derbies!
My son’s car came in fourth place. His car was now disqualified. He was beyond devastated. He sat leaning against me, tears running down his sweet face, mumbling, “But I came in third twice! Why did they have to take my car out?!” He didn’t want to hear nor need explanations. He needed to cry. He needed to let out his frustration. He needed time to work through his feelings.
Then all of a sudden, I remembered back to the dinner I went to a few days prior. I recalled the speaker saying, “Emphasize the positive. Focus on how well your child did this time as opposed to previous times. Be a role model for perseverance rather than giving up!”
I took my son aside to a quiet bench. I gave him some water and let him allow his disappointment to slowly pass. When I felt he was ready, I asked him what position his Derby car placed last year. He replied fifth and sixth. I said, “Guess what?! You placed in the top three twice this year!! If you were able to accomplish that, do you think you might place higher next year?” He just shrugged his shoulders, not quite over his dismay. So I said, “Why don’t we find out when the Derby race will be next year way ahead of time? That way you, Daddy and Poppy can prepare in advance. We’ll also do a little research and try to find out what makes certain Derby cars faster than others. We will be much better prepared for next year’s event!” My son’s face brightened. “Mommy? Will you help me go on the computer when we get home so that we can find out how to make the cars go faster??” “We certainly can, Sweetheart!” I replied. My son’s mood began to lift. “Mommy? I’m hungry now...can we get some pizza?” Off we went in search for some fuel for my son’s body. Because of the parenting session I attended, I felt pretty confident that I had pretty successfully fueled his soul! My “gray area” was becoming a little more colorful, too!