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Too much truth can be a bad thing

Too much truth can be a bad thing
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First Published: Fri, Jun 18 2010. 07 56 PM IST

Guilt trip: Confessions shouldn’t be forced.
Guilt trip: Confessions shouldn’t be forced.
Updated: Fri, Jun 18 2010. 07 56 PM IST
Our 10-year-old son has suddenly gone into confession overdrive. A few months ago, we had a few domestic “mysteries”: a smashed flowerpot, some minor missing items. He has now admitted that he threw away or broke those things. Looking back, I think it was a stressful period for him: His best friend had just left the country and he was trying to make new friends. We told him what he’d done was wrong and should not be repeated. Of late, he has been coming up to us with a new confession almost every day, sometimes, we suspect, even for things he has not done. He seems repentant for past incidents but can’t put them behind him. We placed a lot of premium on telling the truth but, after these incidents, we have tried to loosen up a bit.
Recently, we came to know he has taken some money out of our wallets, and maybe out of his teacher’s as well. How should we react in the current situation?
Guilt trip: Confessions shouldn’t be forced.
Your little boy seems to be enjoying earning a bit of a halo each time he confesses. You are right in loosening up. Sometimes we are so anxious to emphasize some particular values that we give out a slightly skewed or lopsided lesson. And our kids “blow them up” in their minds, creating situations such as yours. Kids tend to look around for “currency” with which they can earn approval. Your son seems to have settled on “coming clean”. It makes me smile, reading your mail. Most kids think up ways to duck blame and responsibility—here’s one little fellow who seems to have taken the opposite tack!
Jokes apart, you need to shut down this line of communication. Don’t stop him from doing it, but don’t reward him with any positive response.
I wonder if the teacher’s wallet would be so easy to locate and take from, without him being seen? This part is sounding made-up, and perhaps you should just let it go. However, you do say that he has taken money from your wallets. I would urge you to ask him what he wanted the money from your wallet for. From this will come some clues as to whether he’s stealing to get himself things or stealing for the whole act of stealing, the confession, and all that follows.
I have a few questions: Is he the only child? Is he mentally and/or physically under-stimulated, that is, does he not get enough by way of challenges? The “too much thinking” that you describe sounds like he is not getting to wrap his mind around more stimulating and challenging things.
Also, try to draw him into more physical activity. Kids seriously have too much on their minds and too little joyous “playing” and outdoor fun of the uncomplicated and uncompetitive kind, which sometimes leads to them “living in their heads” a lot.
Don’t worry overly; take away some of the solemnity (and possibly the drama) surrounding the confession mode, and he will let go of it in a few weeks. That’s my feeling.
We have returned with our nine-year-old son from the US. While we are happy with the schooling here, the one thing that seems to be conspicuously different is the use of praise. In the US, we felt, they were praised far too much for the smallest thing. In a way, this made them quite casual and shoddy. For example, he would not bother to think of something particularly good or interesting to take for show-and-tell. On occasions, I’ve seen him grab something on his way out from the house and present it in his show-and-tell. Invariably, he would come home with stars! Here, the system demands more thought, and that is good. However, I find there is little or no praise coming from the teachers. Everything is either “correct” or “wrong” or “good work” or “could do better”. Believe me, I am not just looking for praise for my kids. I’m looking at the system as a whole.
Yes, this would be a difference between the classroom atmosphere in the two cultures. You could bring up this issue with the school, while clarifying that you’re not simply looking for your kids to be praised. I would, in fact, prefer to use the word “encouragement” in place of “praise”. Praise in a schoolroom can be difficult to give out in equal measure, and can sound plain insincere to children if the teacher gushes at everyone’s every effort with a “Good job!” or “Wow, great!”
Encouragement comes in the form of words and phrases that are direct and said much more naturally and conversationally. Even in an instance where a child who usually has trouble sharing does share something, it is more effective to say “I liked how you shared your crayons with Madhu”, rather than a sweeping “Oh you have now become a good boy”.
Moreover, praise tends to “grade” things. For instance, when viewing a child’s painting, praise would involve calling it “beautiful”—and promptly every other child would want praise in that particular form. Encouragement is much more specific, and does not label or judge the final product; it focuses on the process that a child engages in. It’s easier and more honest and more “doable” for a teacher to pick out specific things about each child’s effort: “I like the way you have used red.” Or “you really seemed to enjoy doing that.”
A child slow in reading perhaps cannot be sincerely praised, as her reading is slower than others. However, she can definitely be encouraged for her specific effort on a particular day. Encouraging talk, by its very nature, does not compare kids—it focuses on each child’s individual potential. And this is something you could perhaps point out to the school.
Gouri Dange is the author ofThe ABCs of Parenting.
Write to Gouri at thelearningcurve@livemint.com
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First Published: Fri, Jun 18 2010. 07 56 PM IST