In my post on task persistence I cited the work of Carol Dweck, her growth mindset approach (and book) and her Brainology curriculum. In this post, I’d like to talk a little more about how we offer praise and reinforcement to children.
By the time they get into school, many kids have well-established ideas about their abilities and “talents.” Whether the messages they’ve received are subtle or overt, some children have already come to accept that they are “smart” or “not very bright” or “lazy” — designations that seem as unchangeable as brown eyes.
What these messages suggest is that achievement is not based on personal effort, but on some fixed quality or character. The “smart” kids think they don’t really have to try because everything will come to them; the “not-so-smart” kids think they don’t have to try because they already know they’re going to fail.
Carol Dweck’s growth mindset approach helps children “understand that their intelligence can be developed. Instead of worrying about how smart they are, they work hard to learn more and get smarter.”
In his blog, Playdate Nation, Scott T. cites the book Nurture Shock by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman and the authors’ conclusion that “too much praise actually weakens children’s defense mechanisms and reduces their ability to respond to failure.” (Be sure to read about Scott’s praise experiment with his 4-year-old daughter.)
So where does that leave parents who want to encourage their child’s efforts without loading on “dangerous” praise?
The biggest challenge is resisting the easy, automatic phrases that we heard as children and parrot back without thinking. As Scott recounts, in his experiment with Sophia he had to stop himself at each praising opportunity and consider another way to engage with his daughter — to show interest and appreciation without suggesting that she had achieved her results because she was smart or pretty or talented.
Do any of these less-than-ideal phrases sound familiar?
What can you say instead? Here are a few suggestions:
At first, this way of thinking and these phrases might seem awkward, but, as Scott discovered in his experiment, children are ready to engage in conversation about what they do and to build success through effort and experience.
What feedback phrases work best for you and your child? I’d love to hear about your successes in the effort-versus-talent challenge!
If your child has difficulty reading, writing or spelling, Lexercise can help. Take a look at our Online Dyslexia Testing and Treatment page or contact me directly at AskSandie@Lexercise.com or 1-919-747-4557.
Sandie is a speech-language pathologist with more than 30 years of experience in the private practice sector. She is Visiting Assistant Professor of Communication Sciences & Disorders at University of North Carolina Greensboro, and founder/owner of the Language & Learning Clinic, PLLC, a private practice in Elkin, NC, and Greensboro, NC, specializing in communication disorders, including disorders of reading and written language.