From the Principal’s Desk – 26 April, 2019
I had the privilege of attending a lecture by Dr. David Pelcovitz, a Professor of Psychology at Yeshiva University in New York. Dr. Pelcovitz has published and lectured extensively on a variety of topics related to education, parenting and child mental health. His areas of research and clinical specialty include stress management, transmitting values to children and adolescents and coping with trauma and loss.
One of the topics he discussed with us was how parenting had changed over the past few decades. Interestingly, whereas from 1920 until the mid 1980s, raising obedient children was in the top three on parents’ priority lists, obedience no longer even made the list of today’s parents’ priorities.
Contrary to modern parents’ obsession at building their children’s self-esteem, Dr. Pelcovitz stressed that good parenting must maintain a balance between Love and Limits: of “pushing away with the left hand while drawing closer with the right hand”. Children need to learn through boundaries.
He stressed that undeserved praise is not in our children’s best interest; that we should rather give our children the “gift of imperfection” – teaching them to learn from their mistakes the value of “Grit” or perseverance.
Dr. Pelcovitz used the example of top neurosurgeons who fell in the top 1% of their profession (measured by those doctors who lost the least patients on the operating table). The key differentiator of these neurosurgeons was how they handled their mistakes. These surgeons had an unyielding determination to investigate their mistakes until they found what they had done wrong. They demonstrated a resolute commitment of changing a setback into feedback.
He told a moving story of a man who, during the Sri Lankan tsunami, managed to save his family by carrying them up the hill. While he watched his entire town being devastated by the water, he was reminded of the words of his Grade 3 teacher who said: “If something’s difficult, you have to do it. If something’s impossible, you just have to try a little harder”. The recollection of these words spurred him on to run down the hill into the village and save another five people.
Our obsession with building our children’s self-esteem at the expense of teaching them to deal with setbacks and failure is not to our children’s benefit. A balance between love and limits is the answer.