Praising Your Children, You Might Be Doing It Wrong.
Praising Your Children For a Brighter Future? You Need To Read This.
Praising your children is something we instinctively know we should do, from the early ‘good job!’ at potty time, to being elated with high test scores in school. Yet, how we praise our children may have lasting consequences that we haven’t even considered.
The majority of parents know that praise will help establish confidence and high self-esteem, which we naturally hope will result in well-adjusted adults some day. However, recent research has started to suggest that praising children for their natural competency is stunting their ability to learn from their own mistakes.
Fixed vs. Growth Mindset
Understanding the differences between fixed and growth-mindset praise is going back to the roots of the research, to the work of Carol Dweck, a social psychologist from Stanford University. She discovered the differences between a children’s mindsets and their outlook on the world, and how it relates to the ways they were praised growing up.
A growth mindset is how we perceive our qualities, that we can achieve success through our effort and guidance around us. These qualities can be polished and improved upon as we grow and learn.
However, a fixed mindset is just that, fixed. We believe we either have those abilities or we don’t. We are either ‘good at math’, or we aren’t. Everything is determined at birth, and regardless of effort, it will never improve to the level of someone who was ‘born with the ability’.
This is where praising your child can become problematic. Parents would never intentionally want to hinder their child’s growth and are praising as a way to encourage them. Yet, children who are praised with a fixed mindset are defeated by failure. They don’t attempt the challenges, as they feel they have already lost before they have begun.
However, children who have been raised with a growth mindset will chalk up their failure to simply lack effort, studying, or practice. They will continue to try again until they see success. Failures are not failures, but simply problems that need to be solved.
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How exactly Does Praise Affect Mindsets
‘Kate, that A on the exam was excellent, you are so smart and good at math’
‘Kate, that A on the exam was excellent, and shows that your effort and studying paid off’
The first sentence shows that Kate is being praised after the test from a fixed mindset, not because of her effort, but her ability. She is smart and good at this particular subject. Her effort is not mentioned and sends the message it is due to the ability to do the test. It also subliminally sends the message, that if the test was failed, it would be due to lack of ability, not due to lack of effort.
Whereas the second set of praise focuses solely on the effort and work that went into getting that test passed. Telling the child that because they put in the effort, it paid off. The next test may not go so well, but they will understand that it is not because they are not great at that subject, but because they didn’t put as much effort in, and will have to try again to achieve the desired results.
One study, Dweck and her colleague, Claudia Mueller had a group of 10-11 years olds take an IQ test. In the end, all the children were praised for their performance. One with a fixed mindset, “Wow…that’s a really good score. You must be smart at this”, and the other set with a growth mindset, “Wow…that’s a really good score. You must have worked really hard.” Praising your children, while still in a positive way, will have different outcomes.
The children then were set with two more sets of tests, the second set being significantly more challenging and the third being easier. As expected, the children who were praised solely on a fixed mindset experienced failure when the questions became difficult. They didn’t want to continue and performed poorly on the third set of questions that were relatively easy in comparison.
The children who were praised on a growth mindset continued to put in the effort and were not deterred by the second set of questions where they performed poorly, but continued in their motivation for the third set of questions and didn’t fail.
How Do We Foster A Growth Mindset
According to Dweck, in order to praise our children effectively, we need to focus on the process of how the child came upon the success, instead of the success itself.
“Good job on going to the potty, I loved how you watched out for signs of needing to pee!”
“Way to go on making that goal, all that practice paid off, you figured out how to kick it straight in!”
“What an amazing picture you drew, I like how you tried all the different colors”
What About When They Do Fail?
Children will fail. They will fall off their bike, not make the team, or fail the test. We can still praise their efforts without offering up a consolation prize such as ‘you tried your best’. Instead, we should offer solutions to their failure.
“I know you worked really hard on studying for that test. Why don’t we put our heads together and find a better way to try and learn the information for next time”
“I saw you miss the goal, but we can’t win every game. Why don’t we go home and practice kicking, so you’ll have a better shot next time”
Learning how to process failures in life offers children growth and maturity. Instead of praising them for their failures, offer them alternatives of ways to overcome them the next time. Encourage them to take that risk again and conquer it the next time.
Don’t Fall Into The Trap Of False Growth
When Dweck first published her findings, a lot of parents jumped on board and showed a lack of understanding of the growth mindset. Feeling that children should be praised for their performance, regardless of the outcome. So just simply praising children was being done, instead of examining how exactly how praising your children in a specific way, produced a different result.
Yet, Dweck stressed, praising children who are failing is meaningless, it doesn’t encourage them to try again. In the new edition of her book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, Dweck says that we should praise the learning process that led to the successful outcome, and tie that process to the outcome. When children succeed, praise the strategy. When they fail, help them find another strategy.
Dweck concludes that the best way for parents to raise successful children is to teach them “to love challenges, be intrigued by mistakes, enjoy the effort, seek new strategies, and keep on learning.”
Dweck, C.S. (2016). Mindset: The new psychology of success. New York, NY: Penguin Random House.
Mueller, C,M., & Dweck, C.S. (1998). Praise for intelligence can undermine children’s motivation and performance. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 75(1), 33-52
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