Effective vs. Ineffective Praise
“Ineffective Praise?” How can praise be ineffective? Aren’t parents supposed to praise a child’s efforts?
Yes and no…
America, as a culture, thrives on praise. The idea of not praising a child seems outrageous to many parents. However, in recent years research has demonstrated that there is a difference between effective praise and ineffective praise (wrong praise).
In one study, two groups of four-year olds were given puzzles to complete independently. One group was encouraged with the phrase, “You’re so smart!” The other group was encouraged based on how they were solving problems. After successfully completing one puzzle, individuals were asked if they would like to do the same kind of puzzle or a harder one.
The children who were told “You’re so smart!” chose to do the same kind of puzzle rather than moving on to something more difficult, whereas, the ones who were encouraged based on their problem-solving strategies chose to do the more challenging puzzles. Researchers theorize that the children in the first group were afraid to risk doing something harder because they were worried they would no longer “be smart” if they encountered difficulty (Dweck Interview, 2013).
Praising a trait (intelligence, appearances, and abilities) can cause a child to believe there is something innate, something she has no control over, that enables her to be successful.
A Simple “Good Job!”
Children need much more than a “fly-by ‘Good Job!,’” states Peter Pizzolongo, Associate Executive Director of Professional Development Solutions for the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC). The intended purpose of praise is to provide children with feedback to let them know they are on the right track. Phrases like “Good job!” and “Nice work!” can leave children confused about the specific behavior you are complementing.
Effective praise should provide the child with an idea of how to gain more praise.
When a parent provides encouragement like, “Ellie, I love how you are walking while we are inside.” Then, Ellie knows she will please her mother if she continues to walk while she is inside. This kind of praise also provides a model for any other children to follow causing a ripple effect of good behavior. When a parent identifies a desired action or behavior and then reports those details to the child, she reinforces the desired behavior by drawing attention to it.
For praise to be effective it must be timely, specific, and sincere. When we focus on the effort the child puts forth and draw attention to the process she is using, we provide her with a model for how she will navigate challenges throughout her life which is a byproduct of effective praise.