As last month’s blog explored the easiest way for parents to promote a growth mind-set is through praise. Most of us encourage and praise our children naturally. Praise we believe will necessarily boost children’s self-esteem and give them the encouragement to believe that they can aim high in life. Therefore it follows that the more we praise our children the more confident they will be. However recent studies suggests that praise is something that has to be bestowed with caution because in constantly praising our children we have created what are sometimes called a generation of `praise junkies’. According to research from Ohio State University young adults now show a greater longing for praise than they do for money or sex, describing praise as a fundamental need.
This isn’t because praise in itself isn’t bad, it goes without saying that children need to be noticed but we must ensure that we keep our praise constructive and are careful to attribute our children’s success to qualities such as effort, commitment, hard work and practice. These are the qualities that will enable children to grow, succeed and to flourish; they are also the behaviours that are most worth praising.
How to praise your child – the Growth Mindset way
- Make praise specific: this is because vague, never-ending praise is like endless shouting – it’s pointless because children become desensitised to it
- Be sincere: Children have a well-developed prefrontal cortex by the age of 7 and therefore they are able to critically assess what is going on around them. They can also sense when someone is being insincere and they no longer take things at face value.
- Be strategic: Studies suggest that from the age of approximately 12 years onwards classroom praise is not processed as `I am doing well’ but as `I am falling behind and the teacher thinks that I would benefit from some reassurance’. Children also believe that classmates who are given constructive criticism are those that the teacher values most highly in terms of their intelligence.
- Spare your praise: Research highlights how over-praised children consistently find it hard to stick to a task for long. This is because, throughout the task, they are constantly looking for reassurance and wondering `Am I doing well? Do what you can to save your answer until the task is complete.
- Focus on their efforts: Children who are praised for their natural intelligence do not then go all-out to learn for fear of making mistakes. Children who are praised for their specific ability and who are also helped to understand the areas that they can develop, work harder, take more risks and do better overall intellectually, emotionally and they also become more resilient.
Unlike rewards and praise you can use encouragement as often as you want and your children will feel proud that you are noticing their efforts. Encouragement is a great tool to use whenever you feel the urge to say to your child `I’m so proud of you’ or `Well done’.
When you catch your child doing something that you would usually praise such as completing his/her homework independently think of a positive aspect of your child’s behaviour to encourage. The aim is to emphasise a specific behaviour that you want your child to repeat in the future. If for example you saw your child blocking out distractions and really persevering on completing his/her homework try saying `your focus and concentration really helped you to get your homework done quickly today ‘. Your child will feel pleased that you noticed, and will be far more likely to do the same thing again. If on the other hand you had simply said `You’re so clever’ your child is likely to feel like that she/ he is naturally clever and therefore won’t have to work as hard the next time.
Another example: if your child helped a neighbour carry a grocery delivery into her house; you might say – `I think that she really appreciated you going out of your way to help her’. Your child will be left feeling much better about his actions than if you had simply said ` Good boy’.
Using encouragement instead of praise can be a challenging habit to establish, here are a few suggestions to help you:
- Comment on the behaviour that produced the outcome not the child. Instead of saying `Good girl’ try saying ` you’ve really shown commitment by cleaning out your pet’s cage regularly without even being reminded’.
- Comment on the behaviour rather than labelling your child. Instead of saying `You’re so clever’ say `It was the extra hours of study that earned you that A grade’.
- Talk about what you can see. If you have asked your child to tidy up his bedroom for example and he’s did a good job, describe what you can see; `books neatly on the shelf, bed made, floor clear –Sorted and well done!’
- Focus on your child’s positive traits and character strengths like kindness, persistence, loyalty. Find out more about character strengths at www.authentichappiness.sas.upennedu, Questionnaires, VIA strength Survey for Children.
- Talk specifically about the character trait that your child has shown `You’re so good’ is not as helpful as saying `It took courage to apologize to Mrs Green for accidentally knocking down her plant’.
- Take the emphasis off yourself. Instead of saying `I’m so proud of you’ say `You must be so proud of yourself’. Of course it is totally natural for you to be proud of your children but at the end of the day its more important that your children are proud of themselves because that is what will strengthen their motivation, resilience and self-esteem.
- Avoid focusing on the end result, e.g. – the exam result – a part in the school play – the goal scored. Instead, connect the end result to the behaviour that made the end result happen by saying for example,
`It was those extra hours of study that you put in that earned you your excellent exam result’.
- Ask your child a question rather than making a comment. Your child will enjoy explaining her techniques as she answers your question `How did you manage to fit all your books onto that shelf?’
- A simple `Thank you’ is a powerful way to encourage your child. Instead of saying `Great job’ for emptying the waste paper bin unasked say `Thank you so much- that’s really helped me’.
Other encouraging phrases to use
- Look at your improvement
- I have complete confidence in you
- That’s what I call kindness, courage, perseverance
- Thanks for helping me set that table – that made such a difference
- Can you teach me how to do that?
- That’s just like you to be so kind/helpful/ thoughtful
- That’s a really helpful idea. I’m glad that you shared it with me.
Further advice on this topic can be found on these websites: