Bits and bites of everyday life


Praise and Thanksgiving

There is praise, and there is praise; not all words of approval are created equal

By Alberte Villeneuve-Sinclair

True North Perspective
Alberte Villeneuve-Sinclair is the author of The Neglected Garden and two French novels. Visit her website to learn more

This year, we were blessed with beautiful weather for the Thanksgiving weekend. In the spirit of enjoying life to the fullest, I booked a package deal of room, three-course dinner, massage and Sunday brunch at the Château Logue in Maniwaki. The Gatineau Hills are in full splendor at this time of the year! Sunshine and blue skies, the smell of dry leaves and pine needles in the crisp autumn air were invigorating. After a good lunch at the Rabaska Restaurant we went for a walk along the Désert River, crossing paths with a homeless person who seemed to be waiting for someone. We then drove to “La mie et la croûte” artisan bakery to buy homemade bread and croissants. We continued our tour of Maniwaki, stopping at the golf club to examine its intricate bridge and take photos.  

The evening dinner at the Château was excellent and the staff, extremely courteous and helpful. The next morning, Martine (our bubbly, young massage therapist) offered a quality one-hour massage. At this time of the year, when my body has to adjust to the cool dampness of autumn when working outdoors, a massage is a wonderful treat.  

Our stay ended with brunch, seated at a table near a window overlooking the Gatineau River. I silently gave thanks to God for His many blessings. 

Sunday evening, I was invited to join my sister and brother-in-law for their Thanksgiving feast which featured the rich bounty from their garden. It was an opportunity to reconnect with their family and to see my mother. Everyone was in a good mood and enjoyed dinner.  

The next day, I took advantage of the glorious weather to start clearing my garden. Robins and starlings straggled along and perched in the mini-crabapple tree to feast on its ripe fruit while jays picked the remaining sunflower seeds on my Giant Russian plants and chickadees flitted from branch to branch and shared their melodious “Chickadee-dee-dee”. It is sad that our growing season has to end at this time. There were still tiny peppers and flowers on the pepper plants and tiny, still green grape tomatoes. I picked carrots, a pepper, a tomato, dill and parsley before heading inside to prepare a huge salad for Thanksgiving dinner at the clan’s home.  

  Logan and Lea, living and learning

When I arrived, everyone was outside playing games and enjoying the fine weather. The children greeted me with a hug and a kiss. We brought my food offerings inside, including that marvelous pumpkin seed bread bought in Maniwaki. The children wanted to show off their skills at skipping rope, climbing trees and overall gymnastics. Lea’s hair had been beautifully crimped for the occasion.  

My daughter values the old traditions and wants her children to experience them and so everyone was grateful for the festive turkey dinner shared with both grandmas. Adèle asked the children what they were thankful for on this special day and the answers: the feast of course and the farmers who provide us with our food were first to come to mind. I was most grateful for this beautiful family sitting around the table, laughing and enjoying life. There was some teasing as the children listed the animal names they have chosen for each member of the family. I am the frog of this clan while the other grandma is the dinosaur. 

Later, the whole family played “Cranium”, a board game that requires quick thinking and several skills. The children are given the chance to test their knowledge and are applauded when they succeed, encouraged to persevere if they don’t. Fun is the key word, so everyone is a winner. 

I love to watch these young parents work their magic with guidance and praise. There is nothing meek and mild about this clan; they are boisterous and full of “joie de vivre”! Affection is freely demonstrated and love is obvious.  

Today’s generation of parents has often been criticized for overdoing praise. But the secret is all in the quality of the praise meted out. It has to be specific. 

Carol Dweck, professor of psychology at Stanford University and author of Mindset, explains that fixed statements like “good job” or “good girl (or boy)” don’t give kids information they can use for future challenges, whereas helping them understand where their efforts are paying off will. 

In the article “The Praise Paradox” of the Oct. 9th Ottawa Citizen, examples are given to illustrate the difference between fixed statements (empty praise) and “process praise” (the right way). Here are the examples: 

Instead of saying, “You’re so smart!”… saying, “All your studying really paid off this time” puts the focus on effort and is more revealing. 

Instead of saying “That’s a beautiful picture!”… saying, “I love the way you used so many colours. What made you decide to do that?” will focus on the child’s creativity and give him an opportunity to analyse his creative skills and unique style. 

Instead of saying, “You’re so good at hockey!”… saying, “What was your favourite part of the game?” Have you been practicing your wrist shot?” 

Instead of saying, “You’re so talented!” … saying, “I really admire the way you practice your violin and keep learning new songs!” will offer encouragement and instill pride. 

Process praise (also called “growth mindset praise”) is the kind of praise that really motivates children because it reinforces the fact that learning and growing are a part of the process rather than a measure of fixed intelligence. 

In correlation with last week’s article, where I talked about neuroplasticity, Dr. Dweck believes that if kids learn that the brain is like a muscle, which can grow and become stronger, they are much more likely to persevere.  

So parents and teachers must remember that the emphasis should always be on effort and the steps the child has taken to arrive at the final product. The final mark should not be the ultimate measure and goal as this can create a lot of stress for the child and cause him to “crash and burn” as Dr. Dweck says when he has to deal with setbacks or failures. 

Many schools have embarked on an effective feedback system that is timely and linked to behaviour. Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) is such a program. It promotes positive behaviours, therefore minimizing or eliminating the negative ones. At the local school that my grandchildren attend, the three main values of this program are taught as part of the curriculum: Respect, Responsibility and Pride. These values are practiced everywhere in the school, in the classroom, the hallways, the labs and library, the washrooms, the gym and change rooms, during lunch hour, recess, bus transport and general assemblies. 

Children are encouraged by everyone involved in the school, teachers and helpers. A reward system highlights good behaviour. The trick is to “catch them doing good”. Praise is then offered. A coupon called a “Ti-Guy-dou” (or tiguidou) can then be handed out and collected by the student who can exchange them for a privilege or a reward at a later date. They can also be banked if the child chooses to aim for a particularly special privilege, for example a privilege for the entire class.  

Negative behaviour is met with effective feedback that is specific, linked to behaviour and timely. Therefore, if you scribbled all over your locker door, the consequence won’t be sitting on a chair in front of the principal’s office but more likely participating in the cleanup that is required. 

This becomes a community venture with parents, teachers and staff modelling, communicating and motivating students so they can become the best they can be.  

The end result is, according to Christine Johnson a school principal at Riverview Alternative School, “Students who have clarity, motivation and a sense of competency rather than students filled with uncertainty and doubt.” 

As a retired teacher who has used similar systems in my 32-year career, I can say they work wonders compared to harsh criticism, yelling and repetitive punishments that have no bearing on the problem. 

Learning is a lifelong process. The more humane and interesting we make it, the more our children will want to learn and become responsible citizens of this world. Tiguidou!! 

Cheers and thank you to all the wonderful teachers and principals who instill sound values in our children and grandchildren!