Praising Your Children

24 Jan

Recently, I was asked to write an article for a message sent out to our staff. It was well received by the staff so it was sent out to the school. Since  this is a mommy blog of sorts and it was about parenting, I thought  I’d share here:

I invited parents of my students into my classroom to discuss Fixed vs. Growth Mindset. Last year, I became interested in Carol Dweck’s work from Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. This book has many things to ponder about parenting, business,Psychology of Success. This book has many things to ponder about parenting, business, school and relationships. I am particularly interested in the parent/child relationship, not just for myself, but for the parents of my students. Carol Dweck has done many studies on the difference between a fixed mindset and a growth mindset. A fixed mindset is the belief that intelligence is a fixed trait leaving children to be concerned for how they are judged and less likely to take a risk since their intelligence is what it is. A growth mindset is the belief that intelligence is malleable and can grow with effort leaving students more agreeable to take on challenges because with effort comes success.

Now, this book brings about a very uncomfortable battle within my belief of gifts and talents, which is intelligence is not born, but it grows. Can we teach intelligence or are we just born that way? The book brings up several examples of well known people with gifts that were taught and nurtured, not just being born that way, such as Michael Jordan, whose basketball coach in high school told him he would never amount to much. This is a deep and complex thought for me that I still wrestle with because of the way I was taught. The book also has examples of studies that
have recently been discussed on television and NPR about a social experiment with two groups given a test. For the study, researchers divided 128 fifth-graders into groups and gave them a simple IQ test. One group was told it did really well and must be very smart. The other group was told it did really well and must have worked hard. One group was praised for intelligence, the other for effort. Asked if they wanted to take a slightly harder test, the kids praised for their intelligence were reluctant. Of those praised for their effort, however, 90 percent were eager for a more challenging task. And on a final test the effort group performed significantly better than the group praised for its intelligence. Many of the kids who had been labeled “smart” performed worst of all. The “hard workers” got the message that they could improve their scores by trying harder, but the “smart” kids believed they should do well without any effort.

My parent discussion focused on praise. Part of my interest started because I have a close friend who recently was promoted to a managerial position in his large well known corporation. Part of his training was about how to deal with the new generation of hires in their company because they come from the ‘Praise Generation’. You know the type, they have never been a loser at anything, their teams never kept scores, they were raised to believe that they were fabulous, smart, wonderful, brilliant and above all, a winner! Because of this mentality, these types don’t handle failure well, they don’t take initiative in a challenge and have little problem solving skills.

How did we get this way? How have we managed to grow a culture of belief in brilliance with
little effort? It is all about our mindset.

Here are two videos that are short, sweet and help with an understanding how to change our mindset in the way we praise.


I’ve said it a thousand times to my students and my own child; ‘You are so smart that you figure that problem out! Way to go, you are brilliant’! What is so harmful about positive praise?

Here it is, the truth, every word and action a child receives from a parent, teacher, coach, friend sends a message. Tomorrow, listen to what you say to children and tune into the message you are sending. Are they messages that say: You have permanent traits and I am judging them? OR are they messages that say: You are a developing person and I’m interested in our development?

Of course, I have a twitter reference because as I was writing this Friday Focus, I read this link on
twitter: The Trouble With Bright Girls. Intriguing? Yes. Here is the article the tweet sent me to
and it is very related to the praise messages, but this time it is focused on gender.

When you praise a child’s intelligence or talent it is from a fixed mindset. Instead, focus on the process they used- their strategies, their efforts or their choices.

Go forth and praise thoughtfully.

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3 Responses to “Praising Your Children”

  1. starnesfam January 24, 2012 at 7:57 am #

    Interesting. Thanks so much for posting this. You’ve given me a lot to think about and I certainly can improve on this.

  2. Cindy January 24, 2012 at 3:10 pm #

    I was kind of thinking about this last night when I praised Bia for something. I want to make sure I am praising the efforts they put forth and not just praising them to praise. I certainly don’t want to add to the Praise Generation. My children know they will succeed at some things and fail at some things but no matter what I expect them to give everything their best effort. Thanks for reminding me and giving me encouragement to focus a little more on the effort versus the praise.

  3. Christie February 2, 2012 at 4:34 am #

    This is very interesting! I have a lot to work on. I really got a lot out of the videos, so thanks for posting those as well. I am struggling BIG time playing a single mom, and one thing I notice is that we rub off on our kids so very much. I lose my patience quite a bit in the evenings and I tend to raise my voice (which I used to only do when my children were in danger or BIG TIME trouble) more often then not and say thing that later I completely regret. Well, low and behold guess who’s little attitudes are changing and the way they talk to each other. I have had to take a big step back over the last couple of weeks and try to really work on that. I really need to make sure I am also incorporating this as well.

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