I’m not the one who’s proud of you!

I’m not the one who’s proud of you!

As parents, we can hardly resist the urge of telling our children how proud we are of them.  Any excuse will do: they completed their homework; they were polite or kind; they ate all their dinner; they did well at school… any little step in the right direction and we cannot contain our excitement and pride!

Not that there is anything wrong with expressing positive feelings of pride, but in all that euphoria we must still remember one thing:  It is the child who should feel proud.

But how can they not feel proud of themselves if you are constantly affirming your pride in them? Well, the link is not as obvious as we may see it.  Pride is an intimate feeling.  Think about it, if your employer, or a loved one, tells you how proud they are of you, you would only share that feeling of pride if you knew you did something to be proud of, something that agrees with your internal values.

Pride is a feeling which comes attached to internal values.  If you value honesty, you feel proud of yourself in a situation where you have demonstrated honesty. To feel proud of the fact that you have been kind to someone, you must first value kindness.

This is also true when it comes to your child. If being kind is not something that your child finds important or valuable, then an act of kindness is nothing to feel proud about.  We must first teach our children kindness as a value, to then help them recognize it.

This becomes even more evident if you take eating, for instance.  We as adults know the importance of eating well.  For a two year old, or even a five year old, eating well logically means eating something that tastes good, like chocolate.  If you haven’t taken the time to teach your child why it is important to eat well, you and your child do not share the same point of reference when judging how well your child has eaten.  Therefore, when you say “I’m so proud of you for eating all your food”, the message you are sending is: “when you eat everything on your plate, it makes me happy for some reason”.  This is not a logical or natural association. Your child is not capable of understanding when or why it makes you feel happy. If when they eat all their food it makes you happy, then why were you not happy when they found the box of chocolates and ate it all?  Without helping your child to form his or her own value system, and then act according to those values, much of the positive feedback you give to your child is meaningless.

Often when we think we are teaching our children to “do the right thing,” we start from the middle and not from the roots.  Your child does not always have the tools to understand more complex emotions, like pride, if they cannot experience it personally and learn to recognize how it feels.  If children do not really understand the reason behind their parents’ feelings of pride, it is very difficult for them to make it happen again.  Pride then becomes this random feeling that parents experience, something they do not really know how to control. For a child, the direct relationship between a parent’s feeling of pride and the child’s action is not evident.  It requires more emotional development.

If, instead, your child is taught the importance of adopting healthy eating habits, and then chooses to eat well based on that newly acquired knowledge, the feeling of pride is internal: It is directly experienced by your child.  Only then can your child understand your own feelings of pride over having eaten well. Often young children are still working on understanding and adopting their own values.

Now, assuming that you and your child are on the same page, there is still one important detail to keep in mind:  It is your child’s feelings of personal pride that we should be focusing on, not yours. What this means is that once the child recognizes that feeling internally, we as parents must give them ownership of it.

It is more important for them to feel pride than for us to feel pride as parents.  The latter gives your child great satisfaction, but the first is the one that will affirm and strengthen your child’s character.  Because pride serves, on its own, as a positive reinforcement: Your child understands the value of being kind to someone, acts upon it and consequently feels proud as a result of that behavior.  This will help ensure that the behavior occurs again.

If on the other hand, it is us as parents who are deciding and expressing when we feel proud of a particular behavior, without helping our children recognize this new feeling autonomously, our children will learn to do “good things” because it pleases us (not necessarily because they feel that it is important to them).

In other words, we are placing greater importance on our own judgment instead of helping our children learn to form theirs, and get in the habit of evaluating their own actions. The drawback is that when we are not around, our children may not necessarily know how to make the right decisions, having always had our approval or feedback. They may not have the confidence in themselves, or simply lack the experience.  It is important that children recognize from the beginning that they are the ones who “choose” to do the right thing, not because it makes their parents happy, but because it is important to them.

If on the other hand, we help our children recognize and experience feelings of pride and other such feelings, we are raising truly autonomous children, and what that means is that whether we are there or not, our children will have learned to do what feels right, and recognize the pride and satisfaction that comes from doing so.

So next time you leap about with uncontainable pride for a meal well eaten (which absolutely should involve such festivities!), just make sure that your child can share the fun, and the feeling too.  What’s the magic word? “Well done! You must feel very proud of yourself!  I too am so proud of you!”

 

Natacha V. Beim

Founder, Cefa Educational Systems


Does early education really promise a brighter future?

Most parents who send their children to pre-school or junior kindergarten school are very happy with their decision.

Some say it is a great way for children to meet friends, some find it an essential step for them to learn to socialize. Some even notice that their children learn a great deal!  But few of these parents believe deep down that thanks to those pre-school years, their children will be, well, smarter.

How can that be? After all, the academic knowledge given to the child during those years is not so unique compared to elementary school. Does it really matter if a child can read at age three or at age six?  Is it really that important to know all the numbers before kindergarten?  Why not just let them play and enjoy life?

Firstly, the secret ingredient is not in the academic component itself.  Children who attend early education programs are better equipped to learn because they have received the right type and the right amount of stimulation at the right time (which, of course, implies a great academic program!)

Secondly, what most of us don’t realize as adults is that for children, learning is enjoyable.  Take newborn babies, for instance.  When they are not sleeping, they are constantly learning.  They learn to recognize our voices, their environment, the patterns of their mobiles and the many things we are excited to bring closer to them.  One and two year olds are discovering language, and figuring out their role in the household.  They even have their own scientific agenda, which they carry out quite well by experimenting on everything they can find (electrical outlets included).  They are constantly asking us questions! The world is a fascinating place for a young child.  Once they gain a greater understanding of their environment, they need a higher level of reasoning and intellectual stimulation.

From birth until about age six, a child’s brain is forming all the pathways it will use during adult life.  This process considerably slows down after that age.  Those pathways can only be formed through adequate stimulation, which explains why young children are constantly looking to learn. This means that what the child learns early on in life, will determine how much he or she can learn as an adult.  You can compare this process to the child’s physical growth.  A one year old is so much more developed than a one day old, but it is harder to see the difference between a seven year old and an eight year old. As parents, we pay special importance to what our children eat, because we know that it will impact them for life.  If they do not grow at that age, they will certainly not start growing in their thirties (at least most of us have given up hope by then).  Similarly, what you “feed” your child’s brain during the first years of life determines how easily your child will be able to learn, for life.  And since school in Canada officially starts at age five, early education is not only a good idea: it is essential for the proper intellectual development of your child.

A good program is very enjoyable for children. It enables them to keep pursuing their interests at a much more stimulating level.  Of course, not any program will do. A good pre-school or junior kindergarten school will stimulate your child at just the right level, and in many different ways.  Simply providing a nice atmosphere to socialize and a craft project for the day is great fun, but it is not the level of stimulation that your child needs in order to develop adequately.  Instead, look for a program that offers activities that take into consideration each child’s interests and level of understanding, and is varied in nature. Music and arts are just as important at that age, as reading, or science.

This does not mean that your two year old will be sitting at a desk, pen and paper at hand.  Good programs are very creative in their approach to learning, and “disguise” the projects and concepts taught as games and fun activities where your child is always an active participant. Look for a program that can present a challenge as well as a fun, magical environment.

Early education is an essential step in your child’s life, and one to welcome. You may never be able to measure how much it impacted your child, but you can trust that it did, and as much or more than those meals you prepare with such love and care! And, if nothing else, at least you can say that it is a great way for children to meet friends!