This is part of a series, a series of questions that you and your children will be glad you spent a few minutes pondering. Each post is a single question, so instead of reading about a particular shaped answer that filled a void in my life, but won’t fit into yours, this carefully-crafted question will help you carve the perfectly shaped answer that will.
How do you celebrate your children?
There are many things sitting behind this question, not least the framing of it. I’m taking it as a given that you celebrate your children by asking how not whether you do.
Let’s start with the ‘what’ first though. Celebration is a form of positive reinforcement, it’s a way of encouraging, validating and incentivising. Positive reinforcement is far more effective in driving desired behaviours than negative reinforcement, or punishment. A study into teams at work found that the best preforming teams had a ratio of 5 positive comments to every negative one; the worst had 3 negative to 1 positive. You get more of what you celebrate when it comes to people’s behaviour, and it’s even more powerful with your children because your love (attention, recognition, pride) matters more than anything to them.
Therefore, it’s worth getting deeply practical with this question. Dig into the specifics of what you celebrate. What aspects of their character do you praise? Is it their kindness, their drive, their taking responsibility, their being fun to be around, showing leadership, showing love? What are the things that they achieve and create that get positive reactions from you? Is it sport, academic achievement, creativity, their appearance or something else? We’re cutting through to your values here. If you’re co-parenting, then it’s worth having a conversation with your partner about what values you want to embody yourselves and instil in your children. You are on the same team after all, and something so important seems a bit daft to leave to a strategy of chance and muddling through.
The second element is the how. How do you react to their humour? How do you show them you value the joy they bring to the people around them? Here we get into the work of Carol Dweck (watch her here, or get the book here), which you may already be aware of: Fixed vs. Growth mindsets. A fixed mindset is where an individual believes their abilities are absolute. I am not good at maths, I have a gift for music, I can’t draw, I’m no good at public speaking.
If there’s one thing our children teach us, it’s that everything in life has to be leaned, so there isn’t anything we can’t learn if we put our minds to it. They’ve learnt language from nothing, how to balance and walk, climb and jump, wipe their own bums, make friends, make people laugh. I remember when I was doing my masters course, one of my supervisors telling me my writing was good business writing, but not good prose. Over the last 15 years I’ve worked on my writing, sometimes a lot, sometimes not at all. I don’t claim to be a great writer, but I’ve had various people tell me I’m good at it. If I’d taken my supervisor’s comment to heart, this would all be in boring bullet points, or more probably not exist at all.
Growth mindset is about praising the effort not the outcome, because repeated effort will get better results. People who embody this put in the work, make an effort, learn and get back up and try again regardless of the challenge, rather than those who perceive challenges as things they can’t and won’t ever rise to, let alone overcome. Which way are you leading your child?
Finally, our children are different, from each other and us. They are their own person with different personalities, characters, interests and abilities, that deserve to be recognised and celebrated. Even if these aren’t traits or abilities that you have placed a high value on over the course of your life. Their lives will be different to yours, the world they’re living in is different, the paths open to them are different. Their lives will be more fulfilling if they’re clearer about and confident in who they are. We aren’t here to raise our little ones in our image, to shape and mould them for success. We’re here to raise our amazing little ones to grow into the best big people they can be. That’s why how we celebrate them matters.
How do you celebrate your children?
Every week I send an email to dads.
One week it’s articles, evidence, stories and insights that I’ve found researching what it means to be a good dad, so you don’t have to.
The week after it’s a question, like this one, sent directly to your inbox.
If you want to get them, go here.
This post was previously published on What it means to be a dad and is republished here with permission from the author.
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