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February 20, 2014

The Power of Praise

To most, “good” praise sounds like, “You are so smart! You know your ABCs! You’re so great at that!” However, solely that kind of praise can adversely affect children. How so, you ask?PS- Skill Building and Encouragement in Blocks

In her study of praise effects on children, Dr. Carol Dweck of Stanford University explains that “When we strictly praise children for their intelligence, we tell them that this is the name of the game: look smart, don’t risk making mistakes.” It was found that when children, even as young as preschool, are only exposed to praise which focuses on their achievements or intelligence, they begin to build a fear of failure which ultimately results in a behavior shift. Children then become fearful of not succeeding (and not receiving the praise that they are “so smart”) and avoid tasks that will involve the risk of failure. Ultimately, this can inhibit their future choices to try new games, activities, and problems – especially those which involve differing degrees of difficulty.

To counteract this effect, Dweck pointed out the importance of praising children’s efforts instead as they try to complete a task. Praising effort sounds like “You must have worked really hard at that. You spent a lot of time trying to put that shape in the puzzle. You were really focused on balancing those blocks on top of each other.” When adults and teachers emphasize focus on children’s efforts, it gives them a variable they can control, which allows them to see themselves as in control of their success. Dweck went on to explain that by “Emphasizing natural intelligence [it] takes it out of the child’s control, and it provides no good recipe for responding to failure.” To set children up for success, we want to help them learn the skills necessary for life and learning – including self-confidence and the ability to take risks. When children try, they learn.

Simple, but powerful, right?

Learning how to accomplish something is hard, but oh so rewarding! We, as adults, need to be proud of the effort children put into completing a task, then the results it yields. It’s all about the process, not the product.

Interested in learning more about this topic?

  • Check out our recent ‘Read, Review, Reflect’ module on Alternatives to Good Job.
  • Read Nurture Shock, available here and at most booksellers.
  • Explore Carol Dwyer’s work here.