By Kylie Dawson
It is not whether to praise or not, it is about the way you provide praise to children that is important.
We can sort praise into three different groups: trait-based praise, descriptive praise, and praise for effort and persistence.
Trait-based praise, such as “You are so clever” has some value, such as when your infant takes their first step, or your toddler is gaining the ability to wash their own hands. But its benefits are limited and should only be used in the initial skill building phase. When used too often or as the only source of praise, trait-based praise can contribute to a child developing a fixed mindset, or a belief that they are either good at something, or not, and that effort plays no part in success. It also offers no feedback to the child and provides little motivation for continuing to challenge themselves.
Descriptive praise is where you describe what you see, or like. For example, “I really liked it when you helped me set the table for dinner” or “You did a great job when you helped bring in the sandpit toys”. This type of praise is known to increase positive behaviours, strengthen social interactions and relationships, and increase the child’s self esteem and positive sense of self.
Praise for effort and persistence
Research tells us that when we praise for effort and persistence children:
- show more interest in learning,
- are much more likely to understand that failure is not about their lack of ability and that they can continue to try and persist,
- are more likely to work harder and to seek out new challenges,
- respond more positively to setbacks and mistakes, and
- are motivated to learn new skills and increase their efforts to succeed.
To provide praise for effort and persistence, you acknowledge and celebrate your child’s efforts and attitude. You comment on the strategies they employed in their attempts, and you focus on supporting a growth mindset (Dweck, C., 2014). For example, you watch your two-year-old trying to find the right spot for a range of large wooden puzzle pieces; you know the type, those ones where there is a board and 6 puzzle pieces with little knobs on them. You observe your child trying to find the right spot for each piece, using trial and error, as well as trying to match the shape to the spot on the board. You can provide praise such as: “You worked so hard at putting the puzzle together. I saw you trying different pieces in different spots and trying to match the shape of the puzzle piece to the shape on the board. And after all that effort you finished the puzzle!”.
This type of praise tells the child that it is their commitment, their persistence, their willingness to try different approaches that contributed to their success. These are critical factors to developing a growth mindset (Dweck, C., 2014).
- Be sincere with your praise.
- You don’t have to praise every single thing they do, or attempt.
- And be careful not to equate your child’s efforts with intelligence. For example, “You worked out that the lighter ball will float on top of the water, you are so smart!”. Replace the “You are so smart” part with “You worked hard and tried lots of different balls so you could find the one that would float”.
- Don’t tie yourself in knots about what to praise, when to praise, how to praise, and don’t spend any time worrying about all the times you said, “What a clever boy/girl”. We are all trying to do the best job we can as parents; see if you can find just one moment each day in which you can provide descriptive or process praise, and most importantly, find lots of moments to tell your child you love them, no matter what they do or achieve!
Dweck, C. (2014). Developing a growth mindset. Accessed 12 October 2021 from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hiiEeMN7vbQ
Mindset Works. (2017). Decades of scientific research that started a growth mindset revolution. Accessed 12 October, 2021 from https://www.mindsetworks.com/science/#:~:text=Dweck%20coined%20the%20terms%20fixed,that%20leads%20to%20higher%20achievement.
Norman, R. (2021). How to praise without ever using ‘Good boy’ or ‘Good girl’. Accessed 12 October 2021 from https://amotherfarfromhome.com/use-phrases-good-girl-good-boy-well/
Raising Children Network. (2021). Praise, encouragement, and rewards. Accessed 12 October 2021 from https://raisingchildren.net.au/toddlers/connecting-communicating/connecting/praise#:~:text=Descriptive%20praise%20is%20when%20you,’re%20a%20good%20boy’.
Taylor, J. (2009). Parenting: Don’t praise your children. Accessed 12 October 2021 from https://www.psychologytoday.com/au/blog/the-power-prime/200909/parenting-dont-praise-your-children
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