What Kind Of Praise Do Kids Need?

The Why, What, and How of Effectively Praising our Children — Part 2 of 3

Michael was struggling with homework, night after night. “This is too hard!! I’m so stupid!”  His mom kept trying to encourage him, “C’mon, you know you’re a smart kid!”

Little did she know that her attempt to encourage him,was accomplishing the opposite of what she had hoped!

While praise can be quite effective in helping a struggling child, Dr. Carol Dwyck of Columbia University discovered that certain kinds of praise actually decrease children’s effort and success! So what kind of praise will actually help your child succeed at homework and other difficult tasks?

Dr. Dwyck studied two groups of children who were given different types of affirmation while they completed test activities. The group praised for “how smart you are” gradually took fewer risks (chose easier tasks), used less effort to compete the test activities, and eventually scoredlower than on their initial test! Follow-up interviews revealed that kids believed if they were smart they shouldn’t have to try hard, and they didn’t want to take risks that might reveal they really weren’t smart.The group praised “for your hard work!” began working harder, took on greater challenges, and scored higher with each test!

So how does scripture compare to the research? In Matthew 25:14-23, one servant with five talents (valuable coins) and one with two talents each wisely invested and doubled the money entrusted to them, “Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!” It’s significant that the master said nothing about how many talents they had been given or accumulated. He only affirmed their faithfulness to work diligently and wisely with what they had, and then stated the natural result of their faithfulness – increased authority and joy.

Children can’t control their gifting/intelligence with which they start a task, or the result/success at the end. But they can control the character/faith they use in the process. So instead of praising the results of your child’s talents or performance, focus on character qualities like perseverance, determination, self-control, and their natural results in his or her life.
Practical examples:

Unhelpful: Wow! An A in math! You are so good at math.

Helpful: You worked really hard in math. That will help you do well at even bigger challenges.

Unhelpful: Congratulations about that game winning 3 pointer! I’m so proud of you!

Helpful: It seems like your extra practice time really gave you confidence at the end of the game!

Mother Teresa wisely stated, “God didn’t call us to be successful, just faithful.” Let’s have eyes to see and a heart to affirm the little ways in which our children are faithful and responsible, work hard, take risks, choose unselfishness, and exercise faith.

Tune in next week to learn what to do when praising your kids is hard.



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