Hard Heads

My youngest has a new hobby – head-butting. Actually, I’m not sure if it can be classed as a hobby. He only seems to indulge in it when he’s angry. Just the usual things that make people angry. Like being given the ‘wrong’ spoon to eat his breakfast with. Or suffering the indignity of having his shoes switched around to the ‘right’ – pah! – feet. When he does get angry – and you really wouldn’t like him when he’s angry! – he’ll start head-butting you repeatedly; sometimes taking a run up to really hurt you. A head like a rock. Compared with our eldest, our two-year-old seems like he’s acting with all dials turned up to 11. It’s impossible to figure out who he takes after.

I said, ORANGE socks, not white!

Perhaps I’m being self-delusional. I’m also a stubborn hard head. It’s easy to be a hard head. My eldest has reached a stage when he’s widening his skills and has multiple opportunities to try new things: reading more, writing more, riding a bike, playing sport. Of course, I want to create an environment of nurture and acceptance, in which they feel motivated to improve. Yet I also want to push them. My own self-motivation has always been weak, and one of the biggest fears I have is my kids turn out the same. I want to encourage them but not stamp on their own desires to improve.

“Mindset” by Carol Dweck is a book that has somewhat softened my cranium. It mainly deals with developing self-motivation but has a couple of parenting pearls that made me think.


“Good boy! Well done!”.

Often children’s achievements are praised the loudest: “That’s a good painting!”, “You played really well today!”, or just the knee-jerk, “good job!”. Such praise is, of course, given to make them feel good and raise their motivation. But often the reverse happens. When children get praise for doing good, they may rest on their laurels. They may constantly take the safe option – only accepting challenges that will ultimately prove they are, indeed, smart. Not so bad when you’re 8. But these options shrink and shrink as you grow up and head out in the world.

I know that praise should be aimed at effort rather more than attainment. I need to be cheering my sons’ processes and growth. Dweck suggests something like this:

“I can see all your hard work is helping you improve”

“Look at how your pictures have gotten better! It’s all that drawing you’ve been doing everyday”

A little patronising for adults. If my boss said that to me, I’d kick ’em in the shins. Just pat me on the head and give me a pay rise, please! But it kind of makes sense: ‘no pain, no gain, get used to it!’.

That extra 20%

I love this. This is the sort of stuff you hear about how Asian parents put pressure on their kids. Your child comes home with 80% on a test. What do you say? “Wow! 80%? That’s brilliant! I bet that was one of the highest scores in the school!” Or, “hmm, that’s only 20% from a perfect score. Let’s review that 20% together and think about how we can get a better score next time!” Hard-ass but brilliant. Again, the parent is praising the study process and effort rather than the achievement.

You didn’t deserve it

Next, your child comes 4th in an annual gymnastics tournament. What do you say? There are a couple of common reactions:

“You’ll always be my little champion!”

“You were robbed!”

“It’s only a game!”

“You’ll win next time!”

Dweck’s is a little different. “You didn’t deserve to win”. Ouch! “Accept there were three people better than you today!”. Ow!

But then there’s a follow up. “I want you to become better. Let’s put our heads together and think about how we can work harder to make this happen”. I admire this honesty and I hope I can emulate it. If my sons were able to automatically react like this in the face of disappointment, I’d be a very proud dad.

Head’s now a little softer. Like my thigh – anyone know of a good book about how to stop head-butting toddlers?




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