When Pumpkin was still a young toddler, every now and then she would surprise me by labeling a color or identifying her own nose.
“Good girl! So smart!”
I’d then receive a proud grin in response.
Fast forward to just before the beginning of her preschool days. There she’d be, fiercely driving her favorite purple crayon across a white expanse of paper or counting to twenty like I’d taught her.
“Good girl! So smart!”
Her reaction? A shy smile—if she even looked up at all.
I would just assume she hadn’t heard me.
Anytime she showed off an accomplishment, I felt genuine pride and wanted to express it. It seemed natural to praise her intelligence, because, well, she was smart…right?
Then I ran across this article that, in a nutshell, explained the difference between praising a child’s intelligence and talents and praising his or her efforts.
Kids whose intelligence is praised are more likely to shun challenges they feel they cannot overcome for fear of failure. They have been told they are “smart”, so any possibility that this could be contradicted injects fear into the child.
ANYTIME SHE SHOWED OFF AN ACCOMPLISHMENT, I FELT GENUINE PRIDE AND WANTED TO EXPRESS IT. IT SEEMED NATURAL TO PRAISE HER INTELLIGENCE, BECAUSE, WELL, SHE WAS SMART…RIGHT?
Conversely, children who have praised for their effort in performing a task are more likely to try new things and get up again if they fall. They know the more effort they put in, the more likely it is they will achieve their goals, even if they don’t succeed the first time around.
I began to reevaluate how I praise both Pumpkin and Peanut. Instead of saying “So smart!” I replaced that with “Good effort” or “I like the way you did that.” Even better, praise should contain specifics whenever possible, so the child knows why she’s being praised. “I like the way you used these blocks to build your tower” works better than “Great job on your tower”.
After implementing these changes, I’ve noticed big differences in how Pumpkin receives my praise of her. Instead of being seemingly uninterested in my Smart Girl Praise, she is truly happy to hear how her efforts contributed to her success and eager to do more. She is more likely to try new things (unlike before) and isn’t fazed when she doesn’t glue something straight on the paper or when her tower tumbles to the ground.
She knows she can always succeed by putting in more effort to build bigger and better towers than the ones before.
How do your kids react when you praise them? How did you react to praise when you were younger?