Praise Junkies

“Praise junkie” sounds negative.

Intrinsic or extrinsic reward?  Do we want our children to strive to do better or to accomplish something for themselves or for others? I think the universal answer to this question would be to work to please themselves and to be proud of themselves.  Ultimately it is intrinsic rewards that drive us to be successful with anything. We need to feel the desire to do something better.

We want our children to be successful in life, that comes from the desire to do so.  Desire is driven by the need to be the very best we can be, that comes from within.  We want our children to have a “growth mindset.”

To achieve that, we need to praise our child(ren) for the effort, not the product.  We want to send the message that hard work pays off, that our efforts are what matters for our overall growth.

If we praise the product, we are sending the message that appearance is what we value, that the effort isn’t as important as the result – the picture, the drawing, the score, or the evaluation.  We want children to feel empowered, like they can do anything.  Praising the result is praising the ability.  Most of us are better at some things than others.  Don’t we want to be noticed if we try to grow and do something out of our comfort zone, a new skill or ability?

Too much praise can also work the opposite way. If children are consistently praised for something that they essentially have no control over, they will feel powerless and unable to find a solution when they don’t succeed. This can lead to a fear of failure, which damages self-confidence. Instead of saying, “you are so smart,” try “you worked really hard!”

Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck‘s research on effort and success found that people tend to have one of two different mindsets when it comes to ability— either a fixed or a growth mindset.

People with a fixed mindset believe that you are born with natural talents and abilities or not.

People with a growth mindset believe that persistence, effort, determination, and practice are the keys to overcoming any obstacle.

3 Ideas to Praise Effort Effectively and help your child develop a “growth mindset”:

  1. Praise Process, Not the Outcome: Praising students for working hard on a picture or a project, helps children understand the connection between the effort they put in and the results that they get. Praise the entire process including concentration, self-correction, and strategies used.
  2. Praise Specifically and Sincerely. Children love attention and feedback. However, children can recognize insincere praise. It can be easy to praise a child simply to boost their self-esteem. Be as specific as possible to make the praise meaningful to the child.
  3. Avoid “good job!”  – it is a generic phrase used to evaluate the work, giving the person who is evaluating the work, the person who says the phrase, all the power to make that judgement.

Praising effort rather than skills or natural ability helps children of all ages learn that the work they apply leads to the results they want. Skills such as perseverance, dedication, and determination help children learn to take risks, learn from their mistakes, and move on from setbacks.

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