Praise towards children is necessary. They are a way of showing them that we value them, they help improve their self-esteem and reinforce their personality, but beware of compliments towards children , because even if the intentions are good, not all of them are worth it. The way in which we praise our children is very important, because believing that we are planting the seed of motivation in them, we can cause the opposite effect and harm them .
Carol Dweck, a psychology professor at Stanford who pioneered the preaching of praising children, thinks we parents are missing the point . She is based on the idea that children should be praised for their effort rather than their intelligence. Children who are praised for their intelligence forgo taking new risks, instead, children who are praised for their effort are motivated to improve. We will then talk about how to praise children to make them better .
What is growth mindset?
“We can all change with effort” is the motto of Carol Dweck, author of the book Mindset. Improvement is always possible. And this is applicable at all levels for any child (and anyone).
It is not the same to tell a child “You are the best, keep it up” than “I congratulate you for the effort you have made”. The child who does not make mistakes is praised for his innate intelligence. We praise him for how smart he is, so the child will stay with that perception we have of him and will not be interested in going further. Develop a conforming mindset, Dweck calls it, a fixed mindset .
Instead, a child who makes mistakes, who fails, develops the ability to learn from his mistakes. Fear of failure inhibits learning, but a child who takes advantage of those mistakes and strives to improve and learn evolves. Dweck calls it a growth mindset .
Praise effort, not intelligence
Dweck carried out an experiment with more than 400 children from twelve schools in New York: he subjected them to a very easy test consisting of a puzzle. Once finished, the note was said to each child, followed by a phrase of praise. Half of the children were praised for their intelligence; the other half, for their effort.
They were then allowed to choose between two different tests. The first option was described as a series of more difficult puzzles, but the children were told that if they tried, they would learn a lot. The other option was an easy test, similar to the one they had already done.
A simple phrase of praise seemed to have a great influence on the results: of the group of children congratulated for their effort, 99% chose the set of difficult puzzles: one more challenge, trying is good. For their part, most of the boys praised for their intelligence decided on the easier test.
But it’s not just about effort
But beware, a growth mindset is not just about trying. Effort is the key, but it’s not the only thing . It is all very well to empathize and congratulate the effort, but after the effort, there has to be a reaction. It is important to give them tools to look for new approaches, to try new strategies and thus be able to achieve the objective, which is to learn.
Otherwise, we are praising persistence, but not encouraging a growth mindset. It is not to console them, but to motivate them to improve .
The key to instilling a growth mindset is teaching children that the brain is like a muscle that gets stronger with effort and perseverance.
Instead of saying, for example, “We’re not all good at math,” a teacher or parent should say, “Maybe math isn’t your strong suit yet.” The power of “still” leaves the door open to learning .
Let’s take an example: If your 2-year-old is fitting building blocks together to make a tower and he can’t, we should encourage him to keep trying and praise his effort. But do not stay alone in this step, because with the praise you will not be able to build the tower.
The important thing is to teach him possible paths towards achieving his goal. “You haven’t quite got it yet, but try flipping the block or try a bigger one.” When he grows up, he will be the one who will continue to try solutions to achieve his goals.
In a longitudinal study conducted by Dweck in collaboration with the University of Chicago, they found that children whose parents focused their praise on effort when they were one, two, and three years old were more likely five years later to take on difficult challenges and try to improve than children who had received praise focused on their personality such as “You are the best”, “you are the smartest”.
Praise the process, not the result
So we don’t praise our children because it can be counterproductive? We all like to be praised, and in fact praise can be very positive, but it must be done wisely .
We do not have to praise our children for intelligence or talent, but rather, as Dweck says, “praise the process in which the child engages: his effort, his strategies, his focus, his perseverance, his progress. Praising the process create strong and resilient children.”
That is, not to stay in the “Very good, you have tried” or “You have done your best effort”, but motivate them to progress with a “I congratulate you for your effort, what can you try now?”
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