What Kind of Praise is the Right Kind of Praise?

picture of carol dweckParents are constantly seeking ways to help encourage their kids, instill the confidence they need and motivate them to keep trying. A common tactic: tell your child how smart they are.

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. Offering praise to your child is the key to their success — words of praise can boost a child’s self-esteem and performance, right?

According to Carol Dweck, one of the world’s leading researchers in the field of motivation, wrong.

For the past ten years, Dweck and her team at Columbia studied the effect of praise on students in a dozen New York schools. Her work—a series of experiments on 400 fifth-graders—shows that this praise may not be the solution, but the problem.

For the study, the researchers divided the students into groups and gave them an IQ test. One group was told that they did really well because they are very smart. The other group was told it did really well and must have worked hard. One group was praised for intelligence, the other for effort.

When the students were asked if they wanted to take a slightly harder test, the group that had been praised for intelligence was hesitant, while the group praised for effort was ready for the challenge. After completing this second and final test, the “effort” group performed significantly better than the group praised for intelligence.

Dweck and her team observed that the “hard workers” believed their efforts would pay off, so they were not afraid to try harder. The “smart kids” were made to believe that they were smart and didn’t need to try, and therefore they were more reluctant to face a challenge with effort.

“Contrary to popular belief, praising children’s intelligence did not give them confidence and did not make them learn better,” said Carol Dweck, a professor of developmental psychology at Stanford University and author of “Mindset: The New Psychology of Success.”


Mindset: How We Can Help Our Kids

The take-home message is this: encourage a growth mindset. On Dweck’s website, she outlines it like this…

In a fixed mindset, people believe their basic qualities, like their intelligence or talent, are simply fixed traits. They spend their time documenting their intelligence or talent instead of developing them. They also believe that talent alone creates success—without effort. They’re wrong.

In a growth mindset, people believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work—brains and talent are just the starting point. This view creates a love of learning and a resilience that is essential for great accomplishment. Virtually all great people have had these qualities.

As you work with your struggling reader to keep them engaged in their studies, keep this study in mind. Although they are smart, it is good to make sure you give them the right kind of praise.

Parents should praise children for their effort, their concentration, their strategies,” Dweck said.


How We Can Help

If your child struggles with reading, writing, or spelling, the most important first step is a professional evaluation. No matter where you live, your child can be tested and treated individually, face-to-face, online, by the clinical educators at Lexercise. Learn more here, or contact us at Info@Lexercise.com or 1-919-747-4557.


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Sandie Barrie Blackley, MA/CCC

MA/CCC - Cofounder and CKO

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.