Tag Archives: praise

The “Right” Way to Praise a Child

In a recent post I shared a study by Psychologist Carol Dweck that revealed the possible negative impact of evaluative praise (“You’re Smart!”) on a child’s willingness to take risks and challenge him/herself.

This article, offered by the University of Minnesota as a resource for families, shares more specific insight on the ways in which broad, Evaluative praise such as “You’re great,” “You’re wonderful” can do more harm than good, creating dependency and insecurity.

Descriptive praise, on the other hand, builds self-esteem and reinforces specific successes, helping children become independent, creative thinkers and doers.  Instead of looking to somebody else for approval, they trust themselves and their own judgment and learn to make corrections based upon their own evaluations.

Effective praise comes in 2 parts:  First, the adult describes a specific contribution or effort the child has made and expresses appreciation.  (“I see you’re ready to go to recess. You picked up your toys, put on your jacket, and got in line.”)  Second, the child, hearing the accomplishment described, draws conclusions based on this specific statement and praises him or herself, (“I know how to plan ahead and be responsible.”)

The S'Match Parent's Guide encourages parents to support young players with descriptive praise

Descriptive praise has two parts:

  • Describe what you see and hear.
  • Describe what you feel.

For a mother, telling her son, “You’re so strong” is not as effective in building self-esteem as saying “That was really a heavy load. Thanks for your help.” This boy can then think to himself, “I must be pretty strong.  Mom thought I was a good helper.”  These internal conclusions are much more believable to the child than a parent’s general value judgment.

As a teacher I found it enormously helpful to post language around my room like “I notice…” and “I like the way you…” to prompt me to make these kind of reinforcing, descriptive statements. This type of praise takes more work and may not come as naturally as first, but the benefits to your children and students are worth it!

Have any tips on how to “retrain” the ways in which we praise our children?  Please share!

The Power of Praise… is “smart” a bad word?

According to a survey conducted by Columbia University, 85 percent of American parents think it’s important to tell their kids that they’re smart.  To a parent looking to help a child reach his/her potential and feel confident, this seems both a natural and a surefire confidence boost.   However, research in the New York public-school system by psychologist Carol Dweck strongly suggests it may be the other way around.  Giving kids the label of “smart” does not prevent them from underperforming. It might actually be causing it.

For the past ten years, Dweck and her team at Columbia (she’s now at Stanford) studied the effect of praise on 400 fifth grade students in a dozen New York schools.

Dweck sent four female research assistants into NY fifth-grade classrooms. Researchers took a child out of the classroom for a nonverbal IQ test consisting of a series of puzzles—puzzles easy enough that all the children would do fairly well. Once the student finished, researchers told each his score, then offered a single line of praise. Randomly divided into groups, some were praised for their intelligence and told, “You must be smart at this.” Others were praised for their effort: “You must have worked really hard.”

Why just a single line of praise? “We wanted to see how sensitive children were,” Dweck explained. “We had a hunch that one line might be enough to see an effect.”

Then the students were given a choice of test for the second round. One choice was a test that would be more difficult than the first, but the researchers told the kids that they’d learn a lot from attempting the puzzles. The other choice, Dweck’s team explained, was an easy test, just like the first.

Of those praised for their effort, 90 percent chose the harder set of puzzles. Of those praised for their intelligence, a majority chose the easy test. The “smart” kids took the cop-out.

In my own classroom, inspired by my Responsive Classroom training,  one strategy I found helpful for delivering “better” praise was to post sentence starters and key phrases on the walls, both as personal reminders and to help students talk to one another in specific, respectful ways.  These phrases encouraged both teachers and classmates to use encouraging, descriptive language when speaking to and praising one another, such as “I like the way you…” or “Show me how you…”  Here’s another teacher’s account of how changing the way in which she and her students spoke to one another changed the dynamic of the classroom in noticeable and powerful ways!
What are some strategies you’ve used or come across to help deliver effective, genuine  praise?

Read more on this study in Po Bronson’s article: The Power (and Peril) of Praising Your Kids