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How bad can it be to praise your children?

Three ways to praise to create a growth mindset environment

How often do you say « good job » or « good boy » to your kids, thinking it would affect positively their self-esteem and confidence? Multiple times a day? I admit, my children can hear it at least a couple of times a day! It seems to be the easy praise : « you are getting dressed, good job! » or « you’re cleaning your room, good boy ».

Well, no panic, but that kind of praise has unwanted consequences.

In fact Dr. Carol Dweck and her team found that it can put your child into a fixed mindset.

Her research was done with 5th graders across the USA. Every student started by doing a simple puzzle. Then, they got either a praise for their intelligence (you must be smart) or for the effort they made (you must have tried really hard). After, Dweck and her team asked the student to agree or disagree with a mindset statement (Your intelligence is something that you have that you can’t change.). Students praised for their intelligence agreed significantly more with the statement, whereas students praised for their effort talked more about their knowledge, skills and effort. Please note that the only difference between the two groups was the praise they got after doing simple puzzles! How powerful can that be!

Furthermore,

  • when given the choice, the students praised for their intelligence wanted to keep working on easy puzzles. In contrast, students praised for their effort chose to work on harder puzzles.
  • When confronted with harder puzzles, students praised for their intelligence quit more often then students who were praised for their effort.
  • When given a simple puzzle again, the students who were praised for their intelligence did worse than before, whereas students praised for their effort improved their scores.
  • Finally, when asked to report their scores, almost 40% of the students praised for their intelligence lied about it compared to 10% of the students praised for their effort.

What kind of learner do you want your child be?? What kind of learners do you want in your class, fellow teachers??

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So, what can we say as parents to our kids?

Now I know that I need to stop praising my children like « good boy » or « you’re so smart » or « you’re so strong ». But saying « you worked so hard on it » or « I see that you are working hard » all the time… I really need to find something else to say.

I looked at what the positive parenting movement had to say about it. I found that they are talking more about praise vs encouragement. They define praise as an external gratification: someone else is telling the child when to feel good about himself (i.e.: “good job”, “good sharing”, etc.). Conversely, encouragement would be an internal gratification. Encouragements focus on how your child is feeling about what he did.

Reading about encouragement, I realized that there are 3 different things we can say instead of praise to interact positively with our children:

1- Saying something that lets our children know that we are watching them and that we are interested in what they are doing. I think that kind of encouragement will be the one I will have to work on the most: I am pretty sure I will be tempted to add a “good job” at the end! Here are some example of encouragement:

  • You got dressed all by yourself!
  • Wow, look at you … (climbing, biking, drawing, making a puzzle…you get the idea) all by yourself!
  • I see that you are drawing the face of your monster before his body.
  • Do you like the drawing you did? What is it? Why is __________ that color?
    • I love that one. You are asking your child to evaluate his work, instead of telling him that it is good. Maybe he can come up with something he would like to work on more. It puts the evaluation on their shoulders.

2- Talking about emotions (either ours or someone else’s). Instead of telling them that an action is good, let’s leave it to them. If they realize that they can change someone else’s feeling by acting a certain way, they will learn what is good and what is not by themselves. For example, you can say:

  • Look at your brother. He is so happy you shared your toys with him!
  • I love watching you play tennis.
  • I love how you worked with your teammates to get the pucks in the net.
  • Do you think your friend is happy right now, after what you said?

3- The effort encouragement. After knowing the importance of encouraging the effort instead of the intelligence, that was one of my favourite kinds of interaction with my boys. For example, we can say:

  • I see you working hard on your homework.
  • I noticed that you had difficulties going up the hill, but you kept on pushing hard and you made it!
  • I know it’s hard to learn how to bike by yourself, but with a little bit more practice, you will get it.

Knowing all of this, my new goal is to stop saying “good job” or “good boy” to my sons and try to say something to let them know I am watching them, talk about emotions and/or encourage the effort. Let’s hope it will make a difference!

Published inconstructive mindset and skills blogmindsetpraise

2 Comments

  1. Guy Robitaille Guy Robitaille

    J’aime beaucoup la réflexion qu’apporte ces textes

    • Sophie Sophie

      Merci!

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