Why Praise Can Be Bad for Kids

The flip side is that parents must be honest when their children do not perform as well as their peers. If your daughter finishes last at the track meet, and you know it is because she's younger and less experienced than other competitors, it is better to tell her that she did not deserve to win because she still needs improvement than to tell her you thought she was the best, no matter what the judges said.

But it's hard to refrain from telling children how smart or perfect they are.

"We believe that by telling them they're smart, they'll believe they're smart, and if they believe they're smart, they'll attack their schoolwork with confidence," said Po Bronson, a father of two who wrote the cover story in the current issue of New York Magazine, "How Not to Talk to Your Kids: The Inverse Power of Praise." Writing the article forced Bronson to re-evaluate his own parenting techniques after learning of Dweck's research.

"I was frightened of this idea that telling a child that they're smart makes them think that effort is only for dummies, and if you're smart you shouldn't have to rely on effort," Bronson said.

It has not been easy, but Bronson and his wife have changed their ways.

"I have found that I just need to be honest," Bronson said. "Being honest is going to serve us better in the long run."

Tips for Parents

Avoid labels. Praising for effort sends the message that your child has the power to improve and change, but labeling him "smart" gives him little control over changing how he is perceived. Be mindful of labeling yourself ("I can't do my taxes -- I'm terrible at math") and others ("Your gymnastics partner is such a klutz").

Teach kids from an early age that the brain is a muscle that can be strengthened with practice. This sends the message that kids can directly affect their intelligence, which may empower unmotivated teenagers.

Lose the guilt. Parents often praise their kids to make themselves feel good, or to protect their kids from failure. But it's critical for parents to help their kids to learn to cope with setbacks and to help them focus on ways to improve.

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