Many educators and parents have heard of stereotype threat and how it can affect childrens’ education (if you’re unfamiliar with stereotype threat, check out this article). The Pygmailion Effect, also known as the self-fulfilling prophecy, is a much lesser known phenomenon, but likely has a strong impact on your child’s education.
The Pygmalion Effect or Self-Fulfilling Prophecy: What is It?
Simply put, people tend to expect and look for what they’re told to see. So a teacher who is told that a child is bright or given some early evidence that a child is bright is likely to continue to treat that child as bright, even if the child shows no evidence of being bright. The same is true of a child a teacher believes is not as smart. Teachers tend to give these students less attention and less guidance, which can cause them to lose motivation and prevent them from succeeding. Studies show that students who do well on the first several days of class tend to continue to do well, and this is due at least in part to a positive reaction from their teachers. Further, teachers who are told a student is bright are more likely to encourage the child to succeed at the expense of students who the teachers have (often erroneously) assessed as less intelligent. Students a teacher believes to be smart may also fall through the cracks, however. If a “bright” student has issues with attention or a learning disability, a teacher may not notice it because she has been primed to only notice the positive traits. This can prevent a child from getting the help he or she needs early in their education.
How To Prevent The Pygmalion Effect From Negatively Impacting Your Child
The very best thing you can do to prevent your child’s education from being hindered by self-fulfilling prophecies is to intervene early. Convey to your child’s teacher that your child is bright when you first meet the teacher, and talk about your child’s specific abilities as well as any difficulties your child has. Your child’s teacher will then be primed to notice these traits and intervene where necessary.
Communication with the teacher throughout the school year can also help to ameliorate the consequences of self-fulfilling prophecies. Teachers generally pay more attention to students with involved parents and also assess these students as more capable.
Most importantly, if you believe that a teacher has a negative assessment of your child, it’s important to work at home to keep your child’s motivation strong. Children are most frequently affected by self-fulfilling prophecies because they lose motivation and confidence. Your goal should be to provide them with the motivation and encouragement they may not be getting in school. Further, being involved in your child’s education (without interfering in it) is always helpful.Parents who spend time talking about school, know what’s going on at school, and help their children with homework give their children a lifetime advantage and convey to their children that education is of paramount importance.
Harwood, Robin, Scott A. Miller, and Ross Vasta. Child Psychology: Development in a Changing Society. 5th ed. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, 2008. Print.