Praise Character, Discipline Action

Featured on the Hong Kong Economic Journal (April 11, 2019)


“Sticks and stones can break my bones but words can never hurt me”


I think the above phrase is most untrue. Broken bones can be mended and healed in a couple of months but words that hurt our hearts can scar for years and are much harder to heal from. I’ve heard stories of how people later on in life remember something their primary school teacher said to them or how their parents scolded them as a young child.


Words have such an amazing power – to build up or to break down, to heal or to hurt and words said be remembered for years after they have been said. Which is why we have to be so careful about what we say to our children.


Recently, I heard about a teacher who was trying to teach a student how to better behave himself in class and all he could say was “this is the way I am. My mum always says I’m naughty”. How tragic that this boy, and I’m sure many others, have labeled themselves as being naughty and feel like they can’t take that label off themselves! Some children I’ve met don’t bother to try doing things right because they think they’ll mess up anyways so why bother?


One thing I truly believe in that will build our children up and not break them down is this – praise character and discipline action.


What this means is to attribute the good things to their internal character and have them internalize positive statements about themselves but to discipline their actions so as to externalize negative actions.

For example, imagine a situation at home where the older sibling shares his toy with his younger sibling. Praising character would sound something like this:


“You’re so generous for sharing your toy with your brother”


“You’re so kind for giving him your toy to play with”


Statements start with “you are” and a positive adjective that describes their character helps them internalize the statement about themselves. If a child believes that she is generous and kind, she is more likely to exhibit behaviours that reflect those traits in the future.


Now imagine this: the older sibling snatches a toy from the younger sibling and the younger one starts crying. Disciplining action could sound something like this:


“Snatching his toy wasn’t a kind thing to do.”


“Taking someone’s things without asking can hurt their feelings”


Instead of saying something like “that was so naughty of you”, it is to focus on how the action of snatching and taking things is not a good action to take. Actions can be changed more easily than a personality character flaw. So to focus on how the action was a negative one and how it had consequences to the situation. Then the hope is that they would minimize those actions in the future. From there, the discussion could be “how did it make your younger brother feel?” “how would you feel if someone snatched your things?” “how do you think you can make things better now?”. Walking through the process and bringing in social-emotional aspects can ensure that the discipline is leading to positive behaviours next time.


Help your child to remember the positives about themselves and to internalize them as part of their character and to externalize their negative actions to minimize them. Remember, they will always remember what you say about them so speak carefully!


•••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••


讚美品格 管教行為


「棍棒和石頭或許可以打斷我的骨頭,但閒言碎語絕對不會打倒我。」


在我角度來看,這句話顯然並不正確。斷掉的骨頭會在數個月內治癒,但具傷害性的言語會深深烙印在我們心中,過了多年後仍難以癒合。我曾經聽說過很多人在多年後仍然記得小學老師對他們的辱罵,或者父母在小時候罵過他們的說話。


言語具力量


言語具有驚人的力量——可以建立或瓦解一段關係、治癒或傷害心靈,很多人即使多年後仍會記得別人無心插柳的一句話,這正是我們在孩子面前必須小心說話的原因。


最近,我聽到一位老師嘗試教他的學生在課堂上守秩序,但那位學生只說「我就是這樣呀,媽媽總是說我很頑皮。」很可悲的是,這個男孩跟很多人一樣,被標籤成頑皮的孩子,而他覺得自己沒有能力除掉這個標籤!我曾遇到不少孩子,他們不願意嘗試做正確的事,因為他們認為自己最終還是會把事情搞砸,那為什麼還要做?


讚美品格,管教行為——我相信這可幫助孩子建立良好的行為,透過讚賞內化好品格在他的心中,但同時要管束他們的行為,將負面的行為外化。

舉個例子,試想像在家的情景,當孩子願意跟弟弟妹妹分享玩具,你可以這樣讚賞他:


「你真的很慷慨,願意跟弟弟分享玩具。」


「你真的很善良,願意把你的玩具給他。」


這兩句話都是以「你」及一個描述正面性格的形容詞作開場,有助孩子內化正面性格在他們心中。當孩子相信他是慷慨善良,他日後會更大程度做出良好的行為。


現在,試想像孩子從弟弟的手中搶走玩具,而弟弟開始大哭,你可以這樣管教他的行為:


「搶走他的玩具是不對的。」


「沒有問過別人就拿走他的玩具會傷害他的感受。」


與其說「你真的太頑皮」這些話,反而應將重點放在搶奪和擅自拿走他人物品這個行為上。相比性格,行為更容易改變,故此家長應指出這些行為是不好的,以及分析這些行為如何影響當下的情況,表明希望孩子能夠日後盡量減少這些行為。你可以跟孩子討論一系列的問題:「搶走弟弟的玩具會讓他有何感受?」、「如果有人搶走你的東西,你會有什麼感覺?」、「你覺得自己現在可以如何緩和這個情況?」透過一步步的討論,以及加入社交及情緒元素,這種管教方式可幫助培養正面的行為。


幫助孩子記住他正面的行為,把這些好的品格內化,而負面的行為外化。要記住,孩子會記得你跟他說的每一句話,故此要小心講話啊!


2019年4月11日(香港經濟日報)



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