22 Nov

Praising Our Kids

I learnt something this week about praising our children that is really profound but can easily escape our attention.

It is easy to fall into the trap of trying to make children feel good by praising their abilities and talents.   I was brought up this way.   Whenever I did something “right”, adults around me will say, “So clever!” or “You are so smart!” (Even though whatever I did was rather simple).

Others will automatically utter, “Good girl!”

I mean why am I good only when I do something “right”?

What astonishes me is that research (yes, I do steal time to read such things) shows that such compliments can have a detrimental effect on our kids.


Yes! And it went on to say that it is better to focus on their effort, concentration and organizational skills.

For example, when your child gets a good exam grade, recognize how hard she must have studied, how well she organized her revision time, and how good she must have been at performing under pressure.

Similarly, when your child wins a place on the school basketball team, praise his hard work in training and and how well he worked with others.

This praise encourages effort, resilience and persistence in the face of failure.

To help focusing further, consider asking reflective questions about the techniques and strategies that they used (‘What parts of that did you enjoy the most?’ or ‘How did you deal with any problems that came up?’), and try to make any praise as specific as possible (‘You played well at basketball today’ rather than ‘You are good at basketball’).

The problem with praising talent and intelligence is that talent is something that you either have or don’t.  And if a child grows up thinking that he is “smart”, he will begin to not value effort since “if you are smart, you don’t have to try so hard.”

At the same time, he will start to make decisions based on what will make him appear to be “smart” in order to keep up with the label.   Children conditioned this way will become averse to challenges and lack resourcefulness in life.

Psychologists call this “learned helplessness”.  Whatever it is called, I’m sure we don’t want our kids to go there.

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