This article was written by Jen Lilienstein and originally published by KidzEdge
There’s a nasty rumor making the rounds in many parenting and teaching circles that is only a half-truth. And, just like most half-truths, it has the potential to be harmful to certain people. Namely, kids with “feeling” personality types.
What’s the rumor? That kids should not be praised. But for about a quarter of the population, no feedback is the same as negative feedback and can actually be demotivating. As parents, we need to make certain we don’t accidentally hurt these sensitive souls. Oddly enough, the source that most well-meaning parents or teachers give NOT to praise your kids is the psychologist who recommends praise. Her research has just found that we should praise differently than the “you’re amazing!” that rolls off a parent’s tongue so easily.
The reason this is harmful is because the kids that are praised with results think that the grade that came back is what matters. When this happens, kids stop challenging themselves. They set the bar low enough that they know they can come back with an A. Worse yet, they may feel bad about themselves if they don’t earn a high mark when they attempted something that stretched them a little further. When a child that’s been praised for his ability starts to see other kids around them as faster, smarter, or stronger, he’ll likely question how great he really is. There’s also a risk that he’ll question the person who gave him the praise in the first place.
If you eliminate praise completely, however, you’ll leave a gaping hole that will most likely get filled with the wrong kind of praise…praise from peers. (Particularly in kids with feeling personality types.) Peers are more likely to praise how your child looks, how popular they are, or other superficial things. The goal is to fill your kids to overflowing with the kind of kudos that they can learn to give themselves.
Making a SEA Change in your children.
The most important part of Dweck’s work is that we need to be praising strategy, effort and attitude instead of results. What her research discovered is critically important. Kids who were praised on these aspects actually set the bar higher for themselves. One of the most important reasons for praising in this way is that the child can start to give herself a pat-on-the-back for putting forth her best effort. (Even if the result is a failed attempt or a “participation” trophy!)
How do we, as parents and teachers, make sure this happens?
Praise Their Strategies.
Get specific. In our house, spelling is a challenge, so we try different test prep techniques and look at the results. When my daughter comes home with 100% on a spelling test, my response is not “Wow! You’re a spelling whiz,” it’s “Wow! Skywriting really seems to work well for you!” Rewarding strategy helps a child key into what led him to success so he can repeat the strategy next time. Another mantra we use a lot around our house comes from Dr. Judy Willis. “It doesn’t surprise me that you’re doing so well in X, because you’ve been practicing hard and practice makes permanent.” This statement combines strategy with the second piece of effective praise—effort.
Applaud Their Effort.
The reason that praising effort is so critical is that everyone has a different pace to the proverbial finish line. This is the piece that I feel is most critical for kids. Only the child knows whether or not she put forth her best effort. Whether she “smoked” the kids she competed against or was the last to cross the finish line, she can always feel good about putting forth her best effort. No one else can truly evaluate the effort she put forth—only she knows for sure. This type of praise lends itself well to conversations about famous failures. Just Google famous failures and you’ll come up with several dozen other names that have made the history books. For instance, did you know that Michael Jordan was cut from his high school basketball team due to “lack of skill?” Or that Beethoven’s music teacher once said, “as a composer, he is hopeless?” These two icons and countless others kept on trying in the face of failure. Start asking your child when they are young, “did you try your best?” If the response is “yes,” say “that’s what’s important. It’s important to keep trying your best so that you can get better every time.” Or, “we learn the most from our mistakes. Giving your best effort is what’s important.” You don’t have to look very far to find other famous sayings or songs that focus on this type of praise. One of my personal favorites is “if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.”
Encourage Positive Attitudes.
Attitude is the final piece of creating a SEA change in your child’s motivation. It’s really easy to focus on the negative when we fail, but keeping a positive attitude can make a huge difference. It’s not that the child isn’t good enough, it was the attempt, which is now over. Praising an “I think I can” attitude will help your child keep that mantra going even when she leaves the nest. Not to mention that people like to be around other people with positive outlooks, so people will be drawn to her and will do what they can to help her achieve her dreams.