Monday, August 13, 2012

To Foster Pride Let Directing Credits Go to Baby

Throughout my years as a researcher at UC Davis, and especially during the years Dr. Susan Goodwyn and I were working on our NIH-funded signing studies, I had the opportunity to watch hundreds of parents playing with their children. One individual difference I noticed, was that some parents were quite “bossy” in terms of dictating what form the play should take.

In fact, we all know parents who over-manage their children, parents who cram their children’s schedules with everything from Acrobats to Zoological Expeditions. What these children lose, according to Dr. Deborah Stipek and her colleagues at UCLA, is not only free time, but also the opportunity to pick their own goals and decide which are worth tackling. It turns out that giving children a chance to choose their own goals is even important for infants and toddlers, especially if parents want their children to develop pride in their accomplishments.

In one of Stipek’s studies in particular, children ages 13 to 39 months were observed playing with their mothers. What the researchers discovered is that when children throughout this age range were allowed to choose their own goals during play, they were much more likely to revel in their own successes. In other words, they would choose the toy they wanted to play with next, or which way the train would face on the train tracks. They showed pride in their accomplishments, calling attention to their success and smiling and clapping for themselves. Children whose mothers were more intrusive, directing their child’s activities toward goals they—rather than their child--had determined, were less likely to display positive emotions and more likely to simply look up at their mothers when they accomplished something (as if to ask, “Did I do okay?”). The difference, of course, is that the children whose mothers were less intrusive weren’t looking to others for validation. In contrast, they appeared to know instantly when they had something to be proud of.

These results support one of the major messages we try to convey to parents in all our Baby Signs® and On the Grow™ classes: It’s important to follow the child’s lead. Thanks to researchers like Deborah Stipek, it’s a matter of fact, not just opinion.

Happy Signing (and don’t forget to visit us on Facebook)!


Linda Acredolo, Ph.D.
Professor Emeritus, UC Davis
Co-Founder, The Baby Signs® Program
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