School’s out and summer is upon us. Parents everywhere are trying to figure out what to do with their kids. One universal problem, documented in countless studies of young children over the past thirty-five years, is called summer learning loss.
This loss in learning varies across grade level, subject matter and family income. In general, kids from low-income families lose the equivalent of two months of reading proficiency whereas kids from middle class families experience slight gains. Why this difference and how can it be changed? The answer is simple: get kids to read, especially in the summer. But how?
In Part 1 about motivation, we learned how intrinsic motivation, the built-in desire to learn and to grow, is far more powerful than extrinsic motivation at sustaining good habits. One of the hotly debated topics in the field concerns the use of praise. Does praise help motivate kids to work harder or does it do just the opposite?
Although research about the perils of too much praise on children’s learning is not new, it is so important that it bears repeating. Here’s the punchline: praise may do more harm than good.
One of the leaders of this inquiry is psychologist Carol Dweck at Stanford University. Her original article entitled “Praise for Intelligence Can Undermine Children’s Motivation and Performance,” was published with Claudia Mueller from Columbia University in 1998, and it created quite a stir since the prevailing belief at the time was that praise helped increase motivation.
To be motivated means to be moved to do something. Who among us has not wondered or worried about how to motivate ourselves, our spouse or our kids to get things done, whether it be homework, exercise, or just doing the dishes? The good news is that this area of inquiry is so important that it has been and continues to be a hot topic for research.
One of the key distinctions when examining motivation–or lack thereof–is the difference between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. When we are intrinsically motivated, we do something because it is interesting and enjoyable. When extrinsically motivated, we do something either for some type of reward or to avoid an external punishment–the proverbial carrot or stick.
Life is full of all kinds of activities, some fun and some boring. Most of us do not have to be prodded or praised to do something we inherently love. We just need to figure out how to get ourselves to complete tasks that are unappealing but necessary.
Now that school’s out, everyone wants to play and go on vacation. Having a flashlight and flares for a car trip is a great idea. So is a travel bag of games and CDs.
But what about a repair kit for family feelings? Or a road map to harmony? Even a dream vacation in an idyllic setting can become a nightmare if the kids are at each other’s throats.
Here are some practical parenting tools to help bring out the best in everybody: