Are you a “good job” junkie? Do you happen to label your kid with praise like “You are so smart!”? If yes, so what is the harm with that? According to research, that can actually be harmful. I think we as parents all should all reflect about which ways to give feedback, and what we actually want to achieve.
I know I am very proud of my kids, and I want them to know that, so I think I happen to praise — often without thought. So again, what is the harm with that, right? After all, it’s just a quick verbal pat on the back. But here is the harm: Praise often motivates kids… to receive more praise. And with praise that labels an attribute will make it so easy to focus on looking good instead of learning. In fact, this focus on looking good can become so intense that it encumbers kids from taking simple chances like just asking a quick question when there is something they think they should already know. In short, telling children they are “smart” can make them act the opposite.
So how should we praise our kids to build an effective motivational framework? And how do we trigger their drive, passion, character strength or perseverance, and their ability to adhere to long-term goals, and not to give up in adversities?
If I take problem solving as an example, I think depending on what mindset and belief kids have towards beeing able to solve it, they will get different results. One important part in collaborative problem solving is the belief that if kids could do well, they would do well. This is why the right kind of feedback is so important. I found an interesting article from Huffpost about feedback here. The article is called “Stop saying, ‘You are so smart!’ 3 better ways to praise kids, written by Renee Jain. Renee writes about three research-based strategies:
OK, so why is it important to praise the process, and not the person? According to the research, “person praise” (e.g. “You are so brilliant”) will enhance fixed mindsets, instead of growth mindset. So, is that a bad thing?
Did you grow up with the belief that such as intelligence, character and creative ability are innate and immutable? In other words, no matter how much you study or how much effort you exert, you are pretty much stuck with the cards you have been dealt, or? Do you believe your potential is capped, and avoid challenges that test your abilities? Do you force yourself to go outside your comfort zone? Do you think there is a “limit” of how far you can get?
Did you grow up with the belief the brain is a muscle that can grow, and abilities are assets to be nurtured through hard work? Do you think you were born with a set of raw materials, which were a good solid launching point. Do you thrive on challenges? If yes, then I think you may also have developed your “GRIT”, which is an expression developed by Angela Lee Duckworth. Angela has found in her research that IQ isn’t the only thing separate the successful students from those who struggle. GRIT is about the drive, passion, character strength or perseverance. – In short, it is an ability to adhere to long-term goals, and not to give up in adversities. I really recommend to check out her TED-talk.
I belive the version of mindset leads to a self-fulfilling prophecy. I know I want my children to grow up with the growth mindset, because I think that is more beneficial for them, than the fixed mindset. When it comes to myself, I think I have a mix of both mindsets depending on the situation. If I am not motivated enough, then it is easy to fall into the fixed mindset.
Instead of “person praise” (e.g., “You are smart”), offer “process praise”:
A. Praise the strategy (e.g., “You found another way to solve it.”)
B. Praise with specificity (e.g., “You seem to really understand the instructions.”)
C. Praise effort (e.g., “I can tell you’ve been thinking.”)
Would you feel awkward if someone told you have done a good job, when you know you have not? Would you look for hidden agendas? Your kids are just as suspicious of praise as adults, especially if they are older. You usually know whether you actually did a good job, right? According to the research done by psychologist Wulf-Uwe Meyer, children believed that receiving praise from a teacher was not a sign of doing well; rather, it was a sign the teacher thought they lacked ability and needed extra encouragement. Is that not a contradiction…?
Be sincere. Offer authentic praise for real achievements. No one can read your mind and sense the intention behind the praise. Kids may actually perceive inauthentic praise as a sign of failure!
Yes, because your kids can develop an immunity to praise. Every praise triggers the brain’s reward system, which is very addictive, and it will require higher and higher doses to reach a level of satisfaction. And as soon as the dangling carrot is removed, the interest in the activity is likely lost. In short, the point of a kid’s activity (painting, climbing, tying their shoes, etc.) becomes only to win that carrot, the “Good job!” from an adult.
Try to observe and comment without evaluation or judgement. As an example: “You finished the puzzle yourself” or simply “You did it!”. If your kid draws a picture, provide feedback without judgment on what you observe: “Those monsters are all in different colors, sizes and shapes”. Encourage your kids to take pride in their accomplishments.
I know I really want my kids to feel encouraged and motivated, and I want them to grow up with the growth mindset. I want to acknowledge their triumphs because I’m genuinely proud of them. I also know that I am a “Good job!” junkie, and changing habits takes a little effort. So do I have a plan? Next time I see my kids tackle their latest challenge, I will do my best to praise their process, keep it real and make a simple observation about what they have accomplished. My reward is to see the pride in their eyes when they have accomplished something.
Do you have any other ideas about ways to give feedback to your kids? Let me know by leaving a comment below!