Montessori Moments

August 8, 2009

Good Job Epidemic

Filed under: montessori education,parenting — The Full Montessori @ 6:57 am
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Every week we give a tour of the school to prospective students and their parents.  It’s interesting to see how parents interact with their children; I’ve gotten so good at observing parents that I can tell within five minutes of meeting them whether they are permissive pushovers, strict authoritarians, or savvy negotiators.  

However, regardless of their parenting style, all parents have one thing in common: their need to bolster their child’s self-esteem.  For some reason, they got it into their heads that it is their responsibility to remind children of how wonderful and special they are, and that by so doing, they will create children who are self-assured and immune to criticism.  The way that parents go about performing this “critical” task is what I have termed the “good job epidemic”, and it accomplishes exactly the opposite of what its goal is.

On one particular occasion, a Chinese mother and her cute three-year old daughter were following me into the playground.  As I gave my spiel on our outdoor activities, little Shirley ran to a child-sized drinking fountain set up precisely so children can have easy access to water.  As Shirley drank contentedly, the mother looked at me anxiously and asked, “Is that water safe to drink??”  

I felt like replying, “Well, the fountain is connected to our sewage pipes but the children seem to love the taste of the water.”  I resisted the urge and nodded with a smile.  The mom looked back at her daughter and called out, “Good job, Shirley!”

Now, seriously… Good job?  What great, challenging feat did the child do that merited recognition from an adult?  The next time Shirley drinks from a fountain, and her mother is not there to tell her she’s doing a good job, will she feel like a failure?  How will she develop an internal compass if her mother is always present, passing judgement on what she considers “good”?  And should Shirley really care what her mother thinks?

I could go on and on, but I think Alfie Kohn puts it best in this article:

Not only does he describe the problem clearly, but he also offers easy and sensible alternatives that will achieve the results parents are looking for.


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