The praise parents give to their kids can strongly influence their self-esteem, intelligence, and disposition to take on challenges. However, according to new studies, certain types of praise may actually do more harm than good.
For example, saying: “you are so smart”, may not be the best type of praise; it could even discourage a child to take on new challenges. Research by Carol Dweck, world-renowned Stanford University psychologist, showed that children who perceive their success as a result of their inherent intelligence were more prone to have a “fixed mindset”. This means that they see talent and intelligence as something they were born with, not as skills that can be learned and nurtured through effort. This becomes especially problematic when their identities become attached to an outcome.
But what exactly happens when a child grows up hearing praises like “you are so smart”?
According to Dr. John Medina, author of the national bestseller Brain Rules for Baby, your child will start to perceive her mistakes as failures. This happens because she is used to seeing her previous successes as a static ability, that is, natural talents she was born with rather than a product of her effort. Failure is thus perceived as a lack of ability, which she has no control over. In comparison, when children are praised for effort, they tend to develop. Something that Dweck calls a “growth mindset”. This type of mindset allows children to have an uplifting attitude towards failure. In other words, they will tend to believe that when faced with hardships, having persistence will lead to success.
As can be seen, effort is a key element in a “growth mindset”, but the question is: how can parents promote that kind of effort in their children? Surprisingly, it is how you praise them! Dr. Medina explained that what parents praise defines what their child perceives success to be, and here is where parents make a common mistake: applauding the final outcome, such as a grade or talent. So, instead of saying “I’m so proud of you, you’re so smart!”, parents should say “Good job, you got that answer right! Show me how you did it” or “I’m so proud of you, you must have studied really hard!”. Instead of praising their final outcomes, parents should praise strategies, improvement, or effort to teach their kids that intellectual skills can be acquired. By doing this, children are more likely to view challenges as opportunities rather than limitations. Encountering setbacks is inevitable in the journey to success. So, parents should start teaching their children how to embrace challenges by praising them in the right way.
If you want to practice the right kind of praise, here is an activity you can use to encourage motivation and perseverance in your little one.