Good communication and interpersonal relationships are as important for families and schools as they are at work. Aggression and coercion are harmful to the wellbeing of adults and children in any setting. The principles we teach to help make work environments more nurturing are the same as those prevention scientists are now following to help families and schools become more nurturing.
In his new book, The Nurture Effect, Anthony Biglan, Ph.D., a senior scientist at Oregon Research Institute, describes numerous family and school programs that help reduce the use of coercive behavior. For example, beginning in the early seventies, psychologist Gerald Patterson began to observe moment-to-moment interactions between family members. Patterson and colleagues showed that the main reason families interacted aggressively was that each person got a brief respite from others’ adverse behavior by engaging in adverse behavior themselves. A child might do something a parent didn’t like and the parent might say something nasty or raise their voice. Often the child would cry or whine and the parent would escalate even to the point of hitting, and the child might then desist. The parent’s aggression just got reinforced! Likewise, a mother might ask a child to do something and the child might whine. Perhaps the mother became more demanding. If the child further escalated, screaming or breaking something, the parent might back off. This time the child’s adverse behavior got reinforced.
Our communication programs develop skills for responding to others’ adverse behavior in ways that don’t escalate conflict, but instead promote patient listening and cooperative problem solving. Now family and school programs greatly increase positive reinforcement in order to generate more prosocial behaviors. As Biglan writes, “There is a growing understanding of the importance of prosocial behavior and values, and a growing movement to make all of our environments more nurturing. As this movement progresses we will see lower levels of conflict and problem behavior than we have ever seen in history.”
We want to hear! What proscial skills do you use in the workplace that might also also be effective at home and in schools? Join the conversation and click "comments" on our Community of Practice Forum.
Want to motivate your kids to help out? Try defining them as “helpers.” So says a new study in the journal Child Development. Experimenters divided 100 preschoolers into two groups. Half got a talk about helping; the others heard about being helpers. While the children were playing, those who got the talk about being helpers dropped their toys to help 20 percent more often.
The difference is nuanced, but important. When you want to reinforce a moral trait (like being a “helper” or “giver”) use nouns—not verbs! Being called a helper makes kids feel they're embodying a virtue, says Christopher Bryan, one of the psychologists behind the study. Conversely, if you want to reinforce skill-based behavior it’s best to focus on specific detailed actions and effort. (As we mentioned in a previous Communication Capsule, rather than offering vague “Good job” kudos to kids, we reinforce their hard work and the specific activities that helped them achieve success: "Wow, how did you do that? Could you show me how to do that?")
By the way, the moral motivation phenomenon isn't unique to kids. In a previous study, Bryan found that asking grown-ups, "How important is it to you to be a voter?" was more likely to get them to the polls than asking them about the importance of voting.
We want to hear! What happens when you motivate kids, or adults, by using virtue-based nouns? Join the conversation and click "comments" on our Community of Practice Forum.
Parents from virtually all backgrounds place high importance on raising caring children. So what kind of messaging is most effective when it comes to influencing our children to be generous and kind? Role modeling!
In a classic experiment, psychologist J. Philippe Rushton gave 140 elementary and middle school children tokens for winning a game, which they could keep or donate to an impoverished child. They first watched a teacher play—and regardless of what the teacher said, or did not say, about the virtues of generosity, children donated significantly more than the norm when they saw the teacher behaving unselfishly.
Adam Grant, a professor of management and psychology at the Wharton School and author of Give and Take: Why Helping Others Drives Our Success, notes, “If you don’t model generosity, preaching it may not help in the short run, and in the long run, preaching is less effective than giving while saying nothing at all.” In short, when it comes to passing on our values, actions speak louder than words.
We want to hear: How do you encourage your children to be compassionate and giving? Join the conversation by clicking "comments" below.
Ignoring your kids in favor of your cell phone? Research shows what your gut may already tell you: it hurts their feelings. In researching her book The Big Disconnect: Protecting Childhood and Family Relationships in the Digital Age, psychologist Catherine Steiner-Adair interviewed 1,000 children between the ages of 4 and 18,about their parents' use of mobile devices. The language that came up over and over and over again was "sad, mad, angry and lonely." Some gleefully told how they tossed a parent's phone into the toilet or hid it in the oven.
If you’d like to preserve your cell phone—and, oh yes, your family relationships—we recommend setting an intention to pay attention to your kids when you’re together. We agree with Steiner-Adair when she says, "We are behaving in ways that certainly tell children they don't matter, they're not interesting to us, they're not as compelling as anybody, anything, any ping that may interrupt our time with them.” Small wonder that children (and spouses and friends and colleagues…) may act out more to get a crumb of our attention.
We want to hear: Have you experienced “disconnects” because you’re preoccupied with technology? Are you doing anything to modify your behavior? Share your responses to the weekly discussion question here.
UCLA psychology professor Jim Stigler studies teaching and learning around the world. As a grad student he conducted a study comparing Japanese and American kids presented with an impossible math problem. American students gave up after 30 seconds; their Japanese counterparts persevered until researchers stopped them. The difference: Are we teaching our students that struggle is a predictable part of learning and a chance to demonstrate that they have what it takes to persevere? Or do we communicate that struggle is a sign they are just not smart enough?
Should we praise a child for being smart, or for working hard? Marion Forgatch and Gerry Patterson, leading authorities on parenting practices, suggest that rather than offering blanket “Good job!” kudos to kids, we reinforce their hard work by asking "Wow, how did you do that? Could you show me how to do that?"
By focusing on specific detailed actions and effort, we help children discover for themselves what the steps were that brought their success. As we do this we also instill resilience, and perseverance—the essence of grit—in the next generation.
We want to hear: How do you praise the kids in your life and how have they responded? Share your stories here.
As grandparents now for almost four years, we have started to look more closely at the impact of adult communication on children. Researcher Angela Duckworth, a MacArthur Genius Award recipient who operates the Duckworth Lab at the University of Pennsylvania, caught our attention in her identification of teaching "grit" as a key to laying the groundwork for success.
Grit means a growth mindset where failing is never seen as a permanent condition; where setbacks do not lead to disappointment, and where pushing yourself farther than you thought possible is a life pattern that leads to finishing what we begin. So, it's not about telling our children that they are "smart" or "good at" certain things. Instead, notice their effort and acknowledge the small steps they take that add up to any specific accomplishment.
BTW, if you are interested in determining your own grit score, click here: “Get Your Grit Score.”
Please share your thoughts: Do you have suggestions for getting your children to persevere toward long term goals, even when they face setbacks? Share your responses here.