No expectations, no disappointments, right?
Well, as much as this can take any course, I believe that in parenting, we do and should have expectations on our kids. But the kind of expectations we have and whether or not we are going about them the right way, is a cause for another day, another blog, etc.
In this blog, I want to share about the Pygmalion Effect and it’s impact on parenting. The Pygmalion Effect, also known as the Rosenthal Effect was founded back in 1963 by Robert Rosenthal. AlleyDog.com defines this psychological phenomenon as “people improving their performance when others have high expectations of them”.
In essence, the Pygmalion Effect focuses on the cycle that follows how the beliefs we hold of others influences our actions towards them; how our actions then impact what others believe of themselves and thereafter, the ripple effect that actually causes them to behave in ways that reinforce what we believed about them in the first place. Check diagram below for a simple illustration.
When in comes to parenting and the impact that the Pygmalion Effect might have on how we parent our kids, there’s a number of factors we need to be cognisant of.
What we believe of our kids will definitely influence how we treat them, what we expose them to, what we say to them, how we speak to them, etc. The parenting relationship by nature is delicate. This is why it is important for us as parents to be mindful of the language we use when we speak to our children. We all know that there is power in the tongue, right? (Proverbs 18:21).
When Bontle was younger, I remember countless times saying to her, “don’t run so fast, you will fall” and that actually happening a few moments later. This is what all of us, over-protective parents do. Ours is to defend and protect at all costs. But, we do this without realising that we are actually instilling certain beliefs in our children by imposing our preconceived ideas and biases into their brain’s elasticity. I acknowledge that sometimes we get it right, because of our parental intuition but other times, we really don’t. And when we don’t, we need to acknowledge it to ourselves and to our kids. Vulnerability is a critical trait to have in parenting.
Consider this: The beliefs we hold about ourselves, the world and others may be indicative of previous traumas. Thus we react, unconsciously to situations, based on these traumas. Our previous experiences shape our world and how we show up in it.
This applies in parenting too.
See, the science behind this psychological phenomenon is that, when we believe in our kids, say affirming words to them, nurturing their strengths and remediating their weaknesses from a young age, this sets them apart. Doing this instils confidence in them about who they are and what they are capable of. This is why the language and phrases we use when communicating to our kids is so important. As parents, we need to use more positive language, instead of a negative one.
Here are some attributes (child behaviour) to elaborate further on this phenomenon based on the usage of negative vs positive language:
Child holds back vs Child steps up and tries new things
Child is fearful vs courage and bold child
Child prefers staying in their comfort zone vs Child takes risks
Consider this: are the nicknames you call your children by, positive or do they carry some sly innuendos? How do you react when they've made a mistake? Do you compare your child to other children (we see this mostly on playgrounds when our child is a bit finicky, and we say, "look at the younger one behaving")?
Expectations are beliefs and when it comes to our children, they are synonymous with diligence, success and achieving great results. However, as parents we need to be actively involved in supporting our children to achieve the expectations we have of them. Although we may have high expectations of our children to excel and do great all the time, we should equally allow the natural to take course too. We should not have such high-pressure expectations that our children think that if they don’t make the top ten list they have failed and therefore, we will be unforgivably disappointed in them.
We as parents have such great power to instil confidence and courage in our kids. Teaching them how to treat failure as a learning opportunity to advance themselves forward, is something that we have to model. In addition to this, giving children autonomy is another big factor. Autonomy communicates to children that we see them as whole beings and believe in them. This reinforces positive attributes such as confidence, accountability and a feeling of being in control of their lives. This allows children to push themselves to success from a very young age.
I am personally on a journey of conscious parenting and knowing just how influential my words and behaviours are to my daughter, I’ve seen great results from applying the Pygmalion Effect positively and negatively. With assurances and unconditional regard for her as a human being, I am always met with buoyancy. But when I am limiting her and equally not affirming her or being understanding, I experience a lot of retaliation. Moments of retaliation are very telling of the disparities that exist at any given point. You can only pick them up when you sit down and reflect on the situation at hand.
Like I said, parenting requires vulnerability.
Here are some questions to ask yourself when faced with a conflict. I suggest answering these alone first and then going through them with your child.
What could be making my child react or behave in this manner?
What was my contribution in this?
Is there something I overlooked? Need to apologise for? Or confess?
How can I make the situation better for both of us?
Finally, let us be bearers of good news for our children. What we feed or speak into them should be life-giving and not sucking the life out of them.
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