All too often, well-meaning, loving parents praise their child, even when it’s not warranted or honest. Parents may praise their children simply for being smart, when instead they should praise their children for their hard work.
Although parents may think they are boosting their child’s confidence levels by offering praise on their child’s inherent ability, it can actually deplete it. Applauding built-in intelligence and labeling the child as “smart” makes the child think they are valued only for this attribute. It also makes them think they should do well without any effort and makes them reluctant to learn.
According to recent research by Dr. Carol Dweck at Stanford University, praising children for intelligence can be harmful. The study had two groups of children. One group was praised for their intelligence, the other for their effort. Ninety percent of the latter group were eager for a more challenging task. However, the children praised for their intelligence were reluctant to take on this challenge. Praising children in the wrong way can have major negative effects on their confidence and mindset.
This study emphasizes the importance of the labels we place on children. The children who were labeled as “smart” performed the worst, while the children labeled as “hard workers” were able to see they could improve their scores with effort.
The study mentions that children who receive too much praise for being inherently smart “are less likely to take risks, are highly sensitive to failure and are more likely to give up when faced with a challenge.” By labeling a child as “smart,” he or she becomes more reluctant to take risks, because that might label them as “dumb.” They then tend to think that expending effort to succeed is useless because being “smart” or “dumb” is a fixed trait that cannot be changed. This becomes a dangerous notion—one that is important to avoid placing in a child’s mind.
While the wrong kind of praise can be harmful instead of helpful, the right kind of praise can boost a child’s willingness to learn and accept challenges. According to the study, children should be praised for their effort, their concentration, and their strategies.
Parents and other adults with the best intentions may make the common mistake of simply praising children’s intelligence. However, 1girl seeks to combat the effects of this logic and instead increase children’s confidence, eagerness to learn, and ability to take on challenges.
1girl pays particular attention to this kind of research because with our programs, we have the opportunity to praise our girls often. We always want our curriculum to be cutting edge and include the most up-to-date research on what is effective in working with children. By implementing the most effective strategies like this research demonstrates, we inspire our girls to take risks and accept challenges instead of being complacent or afraid of failure.
We are integrating this research into our curriculum model by training and encouraging our facilitators to avoid labels. Training our facilitators on why this kind of praise is harmful and how to avoid it helps our middle school girls recognize that they can achieve success through hard work. By praising effort and persistence instead of labeling them as smart (or successful with no effort), we are encouraging our girls to take on challenges in the future, increasing their chance at success.