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What You Need to Know About Praise

The One Thing You NEED to Know About Praise

“You’re so clever”, “Oh he’s so smart” and “Gee Whiz that kids got some talent” are common phrases amongst households of young families. We want to tell our kids how great they are and build their self-esteem and confidence. But is telling our kids they are “smart” the best way to go about it.

Carol Dweck, psychology professor at Stanford University argues that by consistently praising our children as “smart” or “talented” we risk making risk-adverse children that care more about “looking smart” than getting smarter. She also argues that praising effort and process can have long lasting beneficial impacts on students.  Dweck says that the impact of praise is closely linked to how students view intellectual ability, and they tend to hold one of two beliefs:

  1. Intelligence is a fixed trait (Fixed Mindset)

Students that have a fixed mindset believe that intelligence is something they are born with -You either have it or you don’t. Because of this belief, they shy away from challenge because they view it as something that could potentially make them look stupid or silly in front of peers, teachers or family. If they make mistakes, they are more likely to try and hide the mistake, rather than confront it and use it as a learning opportunity. When things get tough, they think “I’m not very good at this” and they give up and move onto something else.

   2. Intelligence can be grown and developed (Growth Mindset)

Students that have a growth mindset believe that intelligence can be gown and developed with enough effort. They don’t view challenge as something that will make them look stupid or silly, they view it as an opportunity to stretch the capacity of their brains and get better. They will own up to mistakes quickly and even point them out to peers, teachers and family because they want help in figuring it out and growing their capacity. They believe they are capable of anything with the right amount of EFFORT.

Dweck argues that by calling our children “Smart”, we risk putting them on a pedestal. Then when challenges arise, they’re more worried about staying on the pedestal then putting in maximum effort and growing their capacity.

All in all, telling our kids they are smart or intelligent probably isn’t going to cause the end of the world. But if we start to praise the EFFORT and the PROCESS a little more, we might have a chance of shaping young minds that are resilient to stress, that crave growth and development, and that embrace challenge at every opportunity.


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