Addressing Emotions in Children with Pride and Joy

Pride and Joy is a must read for all parents. It is a very well written and well researched book based on clinical observations by Dr. Kenneth Barish, a child psychologist and clinical associate professor at Weill Medical College, Cornell University.
Parents learn how to raise kids as they go. One is never really prepared for what lies ahead. Here is a book that gives you a bit of a head-start before you sail on your journey and if you have already commenced it may just be your life jacket. In a way Barish offers to hold our hand as we embark on our journey of parenthood, which is often like threading through unknown territory or sailing through unchartered rough waters. 
It is so well written, that as soon as a doubt pops up (regarding the perspective offered in his book) in one’s mind, it is answered. For example, when he talks about the need to praise our children he addresses ones fears about raising proud and boastful kids. He guides parents so effortlessly along the right path to ensure that we end up raising kids the way we intended to. So often we end up using the wrong method, with a very good intention, and end up with just the opposite result. I have seen frustrated and bitter parents who are heartbroken as they put their whole heart into raising their children. A little help from the right source, at the right time could make a big difference. Once again I recommend you read the book for yourself. I have intentionally not summarised the book, as it needs to be read as it is, but I will share my views and experiences based on my learnings from the book.
The book is divided into 3 broad parts; namely : “Basic Principles: Nurturing Your Child’s Emotional Health”, ” Solving Common Problems of Family Life” and finally “Conclusion”. 

Today’s post will be based on “The Emotions of Childhood”  which is the first chapter of Part 1.

This lockdown is becoming more overwhelming for children who are missing their extended family and friends. As it is the homeschooling is quite a challenge. My child’s teacher sends videos that can be downloaded and watched. We have been managing with her school work pretty well. Then a little over a month back she started showing a dislike, or more of an indifference towards her school books. Luckily her summer vacation commenced. I do not like to force her to study. At times a month’s mathematics is covered up in a couple of days as that is when she shows interest in the subject. This year Hindi is being introduced to them. As soon as I received the books I mentioned it to my mom who sent me a link to a Hindi Varnamala song video in a matter of minutes. I was surprised to see how much my 3 and 5 year old enjoyed it and sang along. Now my daughter knows her 13 letters with one example each. After receiving valuable reminders from “Pride and Joy” I started appreciating her for her effort to learn the Hindi song in spite of it being a new language. She was very pleased with herself and started making an attempt at singing the song without the aid of the video. Then I asked her if she would like to have a look at her new Hindi book and see if we could read it. She got excited and  enthusiastically learnt to read four words each beginning with the first 2 letters of the Varnamala. After praising her effort and telling her that she could now surprise her father by telling him some Hindi words I enquired if she would be interested in reading her English phonics book. I was pleased to receive an affirmative answer. We revised her phonics of the previous grade (CVC words) and went on to learn more sight words. Needless to say she received her well deserved praise. When she noticed that her new book had stories she insisted on reading them herself. With a little effort she was able to read the first lesson. I made sure to praise her heartily for making the effort and not giving up when it seemed tough.

Sometimes we tend to concentrate on what a child is lacking, but by appreciating the effort put into what they are good at we automatically arouse in them a zeal and desire to overcome their short comings. In our case the site words were becoming a little challenging but it was overcome. Barish rightly quoted philosopher Bertrand Russell who said that the most universal and distinctive mark of happy men is zest. “Young children are interested in everything that they see and hear…genuine zest is part of the natural order of things…a feeling of being loved promotes zest more than anything else.” 1
Barish  nicely spells out our role and importance. A reminder to us parents. “As parents our enthusiastic responsiveness to our children’s interests is the surest way to engage them in dialogue, and a first principle of strengthening family relationships.” 2
He says that “interest, like every emotion, evokes imagination and fantasy…of what he will be able to do, or become, to be like the people he admires”. He goes on to say that “our appreciation of these common fantasies of childhood is another way to convey to children our understanding of what is important to them., their hopes and aspirations.” 3
My daughter has a wild imagination and makes up stories with all the information she gathers from conversations she hears around her. She has an imaginary family that experience things that she experiences or she learns about. While she enjoys telling me her stories they give me an opportunity to understand her anxieties and help her deal with them. Thanks to her stories we have even discussed death, not only the passing away of those around us but also the possibility of one or two of us leaving for our heavenly abode. She was so happy to know that even if her parents are not around she has grandparents, aunts and uncles who love her unconditionally.

It was interesting to learn that our “joyful and affirming responses” to our child’s developmental milestones “has an important role in sustaining her in the face of the inevitable frustrations and disappointments of growing up. Joyfulness builds resilience and immunity.” 4
Now I understand better as to why my mother keeps asking me to click and send selfies of me and the kids. She comments on our expressions and insists that I stay happy, rested and joyful.
Barish goes on to discuss the emotions of Pride and Shame. I have discussed this in a previous post. One thing that struck me in his perspective on pride and shame is that “we should also help our children to put in perspective their own moments of embarrassment and failure”. 5
I totally agree with him when he says that “Our children’s inner certainty that we are proud of them sustains them in moments of discouragement, aloneness, and defeat.” 6 We grew up with this confidence in our parents. I still know that my parents will always be proud of me, even when I feel I have made a blunder as a mom, I know they will help me rectify the damages and appreciate my efforts towards the same.
Barish is a bit brutal and straight forward in telling us how parents are responsible for how their children turn out. “When as parents, we fail to express pride in our children, when we are frequently dismissive, critical or disapproving,…they will live…with discouragement and resentment. These feelings will then come to be expressed…as defiance and rebellion, or as a failure of initiative, or as an inability to sustain effort toward long-term goals.” It is scary. But if you read his book attentively you will realise how easy it is to get back on track or if you are on track then to proceed while avoiding accidents.
Barish differentiates between authentic and hubristic pride. Praising a child’s efforts, and refraining from the tendency to praise their ability will go a long way in their success. Praising their ability, or intelligence tells them that they are born with the qualities required to succeed. This gives rise to a “fixed mindset” as these are perceived as unchangeable traits. A little failure is interpreted as not being good enough. As Barish puts it – “A fixed mindset creates a feeling of anxiety and urgency, and an inclination to avoid rather than seek, risks and challenges”. “Praising children’s intelligence fosters a fixed mindset. Praising children’s effort promotes a growth mindset”. 7
We should teach our children that hard work and kind deeds are what attract praises. We need to be specific in our praises so that they are genuine. The overall drawing the child does may not be good but the technique used or the use of colour could be praise worthy. To be generous in praise is what I have been  reminded about.
He not only discusses the positive emotions but also the negative emotions of anxiety, anger and sorrow, that is, in addition to shame.
I think I follow his advice on anxiety. Instead of telling a child not to be anxious (as it is advice one cannot follow), he advices to “help a child be anxious – to acknowledge her anxiety, to anticipate the situations that may make her afraid, and then to develop a problem – solving plan”. 8 At times sharing our experiences in similar situations helps the child understand that what she is feeling is natural and that there are positive ways of dealing with the situation.
Dealing with anger, in my opinion, is one of the toughest challenges. The biggest danger being of getting angry myself. Barish warns that “when parents are often angry with their children, children show more emotional distress, more avoidant styles of interaction, poorer understanding of emotion, and less helping behaviour towards their parents and peers”. 9
He stresses on the need for communication as “being heard is the best form of anger management”.10 By asking the child what is unfair in her life and thus identifying the source of the child’s anger and frustration, we can begin our journey of repairing feelings of resentment and grievance.
I like his line “Children cry for a reason”. He talks about sorrow as a reaction to ordinary disappointments as well as profound sadness in response to extraordinary, traumatic events. “When we help our children with their feelings of sadness, when we help them cope with disappointment and loss, we are not only helping them solve problems, we are helping them find meaning in life.”11

Notes:
1. Russell,B. (1930). The Conquest of Happiness. London: Routledge Classics, p.110
2. Barish, K. (2012). Pride and Joy. New York: Oxford University Press,p.5
3. Barish, K. (2012). Pride and Joy. New York: Oxford University Press,p.6
4. Barish, K. (2012). Pride and Joy. New York: Oxford University Press,p.7
5. Barish, K. (2012). Pride and Joy. New York: Oxford University Press,p.9
6. Barish, K. (2012). Pride and Joy. New York: Oxford University Press,p.10
7. Barish, K. (2012). Pride and Joy. New York: Oxford University Press,p.13
8. Barish, K. (2012). Pride and Joy. New York: Oxford University Press,p.17
9. Barish, K. (2012). Pride and Joy. New York: Oxford University Press,p.19
10. Barish, K. (2012). Pride and Joy. New York: Oxford University Press,p.20
11. Barish, K. (2012). Pride and Joy. New York: Oxford University Press,p.21

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