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Friday, January 28, 2005

CODDLE ME NOT 

The seven year old is off to sleep over at her friend's house tonight. I'm a bit wary of sleep-overs because a year or two ago her hostess' parent completely fell for the seven year old's pathetic "I'm scared! [whimper]" act and ended up trying every soothing trick they could think of: OK! you can fall asleep in our bed ... still awake and whimpering? OK! we'll go to sleep on the floor in your room ... still whimpering? OK! you can watch the movie we're watching ... and so on. Very little sleep was had by anyone and I felt terribly guilty. So this time I warned the mom: don't coddle her! Be very matter of fact if she whines and don't reward any silly complaints with gooey sympathy.

The seven year old is an exceedingly bashful and anxious soul so I long ago learned to match my sympathetic responses to the reasonableness of the complaint: bit tongues get hugs and coos (but not for terribly long), complaints that she "didn't have fun today" get a perfunctory ("well, I'm sorry you feel that way"). If we cuddle and make much of her when she's "scared," she seems to feel it more intensely, not less.

You get more of what you reward -- this seems like a truism to me. But not to the (now fading, I hope) self-esteem gurus who recently endured another nail in their beloved theorem:
In fact, according to a study by Donald Forsyth at Virginia Commonwealth University, college students with mediocre grades who got regular self-esteem strokes from their professors ended up doing worse on final exams than students who were told to suck it up and try harder.
(Via Functional Ambivalent)

If the students got strokes for mediocrity what's the big surprise that they didn't try hard to preven it from happening in the future?

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