Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Research Uncovers the Truth Behind Why "Smart" Kids Cheat

When I was in graduate school I worked as a teaching assistant for various professors in the department. This job entailed the usual responsibilities—grading papers, helping students with assignments, etc.

One particular semester I was an assistant for one of the senior members of the faculty in a child development class. Most of the students that semester were sophomores in our department and so they had limited experience with academic journal articles which they were expected to read and analyze.

As I helped guide discussion during class, I noticed this one particular student. She seemed as though she actually read the articles and was fairly eager to participate in the discussion. Having her in class was a nice change from my past experience with students who were often apathetic and did not read the material.

As I sat down to grade the first round of student essays I was not surprised to find that her paper was one of the better-written ones. Analyzing and interpreting scholarly research was not an easy task for these students and many were at a complete loss. She, however, seemed to have a good understanding of the assignment.

When the next assignment came around I again saw that her paper was well written. Then I read closer and I realized that some of the text seemed familiar. I went back to our journal articles and compared the text. I realized then that she had plagiarized whole paragraphs of the journal text in her article. No wonder I thought it was so well-written! Even worse was the fact that the article which she had plagiarized was written by our own professor of the class!

Research Uncovers the Truth Behind Why "Smart" Kids Cheat

What’s Going On: Why Kids Cheat

I went on to work as a teaching assistant for several years and caught other incidents of plagiarism. There’s nothing like some cheating college students to question the future of the well-being of our country! This particular student’s story stuck with me, however.

Why would a student who seemed so intelligent and engaged bother to cheat? She seemed to have strong skills and be reading at least portions of the texts, why not take the time to do the assignment correctly?

What the Research Says

A recent study of young children actually may help inform our understanding of this situation and children’s behavior in general.

This study considered how the type of praise that kids receive might influence whether or not they cheat. We don’t often think of this, but sometimes we praise kids for their intelligence (e.g., “you’re so smart) and other times we raise them for their performance or effort on the task (e.g., “you worked so hard on that project”). The results showed that kids who are praised for intelligence are more likely to cheat on a later task, compared to those praised for performance.

Research Uncovers the Truth Behind Why "Smart" Kids Cheat

Why Would the Type of Praise Matter?

Well, it seems that praising intelligence sets up a mindset in which kids feel that this is some innate part of their personality—“you are smart.” Whereas praising effort sets up a mindset in which effort is always possible so changing the outcome is probable. As many of you probably know, this distinction is known as a “fixed” versus a “growth” mindset.

Much research has already considered the difference between fixed and growth mindsets, but few other studies have looked particularly at cheating. In this case, it seems that kids who think that are innately “smart” feel they have a reputation to protect so they are more inclined to cheat to maintain this. In contrast, kids who are praised for effort, understand that their hard work is what produces the good grade or high score and thus do not feel this same pressure to maintain a reputation of intelligence.

So was the girl in my class a case of too much “intelligence” praise? Well, we will never know for sure, but it does make you wonder if the pressure to seem “smart” overwhelmed her in a new situation where the expectations were higher than she was accustomed to in high school. The lesson it seems is that no matter how brilliant we think our children are, it’s perhaps better to praise them for their hard work and effort. 

Research Uncovers the Truth Behind Why "Smart" Kids Cheat

Tips and Resources:

1. For younger kids, try to promote positive self-talk. Kids will often say things like, "I'm just dumb, I will never learn this." Offer them language or little mantras to replace this negative talk with positive self-talk. In our house, we say, "everything takes practice." Another good option is focusing on the word "yet." As in, "I haven't mastered this skill yet."

2. For older kids, discuss famous failures who had to keep persisting over and over again until they were successful--Steve Jobs, Albert Einstein, Thomas Edison. Here's a good list.

3. Bring in examples from your own life. Did you experience a time when you thought you'd never succeed at something but kept persisting? Recall a time when your hard work really paid off. Your kids will probably love these stories and it's great bonding time too.

Books that Promote a Growth Mindset

Check out my Pinterest board all about Growth Mindset  

**this post contains affiliate links

Monday, October 16, 2017

Parenting is an Ongoing Learning Process

Parenting means...continually learning about yourself and your children

Parenting means...recognizing that you don't know all the answers

Parenting means...not giving up on your kids (even when it's a struggle)

Parenting are still your own person with dreams, ideas, and feelings

Because parenting is all these things and much more I hope you take a moment to read about the Mom Conference

It begins Tuesday, Oct. 17th. Yes, it has TONS of great parenting advice like these awesome speakers:

Amanda Morgan on the Power of Play (she is one of my all time favs!)

Parenting is an Ongoing Learning Process

Amy McCready on Raising Kids who are Motivated and Grateful (her stuff is always wonderful)

Parenting is an Ongoing Learning Process

But it also has wonderful information about being a real mom and finding time to do everything you want to do:

Sadie Jane Sabin on Weight Loss and Fitness (healthy, strong moms!)

Kelly Jensen on Finding Joy in Motherhood (self-care and joy time)

I hope you will check it out and sign up TODAY. The best part is that the  Mom Conference is all FREE! This is one of the few big online events that I really look forward to each year.

Participate ONLINE and be inspired October 17, 18 and 19th!

Register for FREE today so you can watch TOMORROW:
Click HERE

Wishing you a wonderful week ahead!

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

The Developmental Benefits of Dress-Up Play {plus Great Costume Deals!}

Fall is in the air. Crisp mornings and leaves changing colors have all begun here in Colorado. Now, I'm not usually one to jump to the next season or holiday before it's time, but I have to admit I get excited about Halloween (and my kids too). We all love dressing up and there is something about the holiday that just takes you back to your childhood.

Costumes are Not Just for Halloween

Playing dress-up is not just for Halloween, though. Kids love to dress-up in costumes and pretend to be different characters all year long. I fondly remember when my oldest son was about 4 years old, he went through a phase where he wanted to dress up in costumes pretty much all day. He would change outfits 8-10 times a day!

I loved it! Sure, I got tired of helping him in and out of costumes but I really appreciated his imagination. At age 4, he was at an age of make-believe and flexible gender roles. One minute he was a superhero, the next a policeman, and once in awhile even a princess (which had to be improvised out of my shirts because we had no princess outfits!).

The point is that this phase of development in which kids' brains and ideas are so flexible is amazing. We should enjoy it and foster this type of play while this phase lasts. 

The Developmental Benefits of Dress-Up Play

What are Kids Learning Through Dress-Up?

You may wonder if kids are actually learning anything through dress-up play. The answer is a resounding YES!

Mental flexibility: we think it's just kid's fun to take on another person's identity but consider the amount of mental flexibility it takes to take on a role. For a 3-5-year-old child, it is a fairly complex skill to role-play a different person and actually stay in character.

- Self-regulation: preschool age kids are not known for having a lot of self-regulation skills but dress-up play can help with this skill. Role play encourages kids to take on the words and actions of another character. These types of skills require kids to self-regulate enough to limit their actions to those of the character, not their own (at least briefly).

- Role identity and relationships: in the 3-5-year-old range, kids are still figuring out their place in the world. This means negotiating good vs evil, male and female, teacher and student, etc. Dress-up play helps kids work through this understanding of role identity. They can take on different roles for a short time to help understand the feelings of another person. What a great way to learn empathy!

The Developmental Benefits of Dress-Up Play

To encourage dress-up play all year round, not just at Halloween, you can stock up on costumes while they are on sale. Now, one of my favorite online sellers, Educents has costumes! The great part about these is that they are not all TV or movie characters--they have a great selection of everyday heroes (doctors, police officers, insects, and fairies). A great time to explore all the different roles your kids enjoy.

The Developmental Benefits of Dress-Up Play

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Wednesday, September 13, 2017

The New Research that Convinced Me to be a Soccer Mom Dropout

My oldest son is 8 and is one of the few in his class that is not involved in soccer...and never has been. GASP!

It hasn't really been an intentional choice on our part. He has never really shown an interest (for more than 1 day). Plus, I'm not ready to commit our precious free time after school and especially on weekends to sitting in the hot or cold or rain to watch him practice.

Am I a horrible mother? The society-driven guilt part of me says, "yes" but the authentic me says, "heck no!"

Truth be told, I kind of like being a soccer mom rebel. I don't really like always doing the expected motherhood thing and my son isn't one to just "go with flow" on activities like that. He has done certain activities from time to time--summer baseball (we missed half the season traveling), "ninja" gymnastics (right up his alley), and chess club. Overall, however, I find that he does best just hanging out with his friends after school (the few that also have eschewed soccer).

The New Research that Convinced Me to be a Soccer Mom Dropout

What We Do Instead

The other day I found him and two friends making an "arcade" out of a bunch of huge cardboard boxes and some Nerf guns. I couldn't have been more proud. They were using their best salesmen techniques to try to convince some younger boys at the park to play for a fee (ha!). They didn't make much money, but they had a blast and you could tell they felt empowered by their experiment with entrepreneurship. 

I'm not against all organized activities. They have their place. But seeing the pride on my son's face at his planning and accomplishing his arcade idea made me think that there really is something to allowing kids to do their own thing.

The other thing I've noticed is that when he has plenty of time to play with friends without an agenda, his behavior and mood is WAY better.

Here's why: during free play kids get the chance to release their emotions, pent up anger or stress. You know how you feel when you've been stressed and then you go for a long walk or a strenuous workout. You feel de-stressed and cleansed, right? 

This is what play does for kids. Without it, we parents often see our kids' emotions and stress spill out as misbehavior, whining, and overall crankiness.

Here's the perfect example: this past weekend we were pretty busy. We were invited to an amusement park with some friends, my son was selling popcorn for Cub Scouts and we had church and a party to attend. We are not usually that busy on weekends, but it just ended up that way. By Sunday night, I felt a little spent but I thought my 8-year-old was doing okay (surprisingly).

Guess what? Monday after school he lost it. Meltdown, fighting with his brother, etc. etc. He needed downtime and had not gotten enough over the weekend. Going to school all day had just been too much and he needed an emotional release. So we stayed at home, he whined and cried off and on and then we talked for quite awhile about what's been going on at school, on the playground, etc. 

The New Research that Convinced Me to be a Soccer Mom Dropout

After eating a big dinner and relaxing at home he was a totally different kid the next morning. If anything speaks to the need for downtime for kids, this does. The night before, you would have thought everything in his life was a disaster. The next morning, he was eager for school and ready to move on with the day. Amazing!

Related Post: The Surprising Way to Actually Enjoy Playtime with Your Kids

What Does the Research Say?

Until recently, the one voice you haven’t heard on the topic of overscheduled kids was the one of science. Child development researchers are now trying to delve into this topic and understand the relationship between structured activities and children’s development.

In one of the first studies of this kind, researchers at The University of Colorado looked at the connection between how kids spend their time (structured vs. unstructured activities) and the development of executive function. As you may know, executive function is one of the key regulatory skills that develop during childhood and is crucial to children’s success and well-being later in life. 

Executive function includes things like 

* planning ahead, 
 * goal-oriented behavior, 
* suppression of unwanted thoughts or behaviors, and 
* delaying gratification. 

Do these sound familiar? They are typically all the skills that break down when kids are overtired or stressed (like my son was).

These skills have been shown to predict children’s academic and social outcomes years down the road. Based on this, you can see why researchers (and parents) are interested in understanding anything related to how executive function develops.

The New Research that Convinced Me to be a Soccer Mom Dropout

The researchers then analyzed the relationship between children’s activities and their level of executive function. The results showed that were was, indeed, a correlation between these factors. 
The more time children spent in structured activities, the lower their scores on the assessment of executive function. In contrast, the more time children spent in less structured activities, the higher their assessment of executive function.

So what does this all mean? Well, we shouldn't all go and unenroll our kids from every activity turn to "unschooling" just yet. This study was small scale (70 children) and was only correlational, meaning we do not know if structured vs. unstructured activities cause a change in executive function or if there is something else going on here. 

What this study does show is that there is some relationship between these factors that deserves further study. What is it about unstructured time that might enforce executive function skills? Is there something about structured activities that limit executive function?

In our lives as parents, I think a study like this makes us reassess the cultural norms and expectations we might be adopting. Are we involved in activities because our kids like them or you see some benefit from them? Or are we just doing what "soccer moms" do? Activities can be great, but don't feel like you must enroll your kid to keep him busy because that's what our society dictates. 

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