Praise the Process not the Person

I’ve been doing a lot of growth mindset work with elementary students and even adolescents in my work as a social worker. Now a days everyone gets a ribbon for showing up or signing their name. But what does this teach our kids?

Children actually take compliments or praise at face value in early stages of development but starting at about the age of 1st grade or 6 and 7 years old children begin to become suspicious of praise and by the age of 12 according to studies by Wild-Uwe Meyer, children believe that earning praise is not a sign of you did well but rather a sign you lack ability and the person thinks you you need extra encouragement. Teens, Meyer found, discounted praise altogether and believed it was actually a teacher’s criticism and not praise at all that conveyed a positive belief in a students aptitude. Another scientist suggests that a teacher who praises may be sending a message that they have reached their limit of potential, while another teacher who criticizes a pupil conveys the message that the student can improve their performance further.

There are many studies out there to show that children who are told “You are so smart” or “You did great” often begin to develop habits of withdraw or avoidance from taking on challenges. We think it will build their confidence but in actuality constant praise does not prevent under performance. By telling your child “You are smart”, when they don’t do well at something they would give up quickly or avoid things they believe they won’t be good at or even affecting their confidence and self-esteem with thoughts of “I am dumb” or “I am a failure”. They underrate the importance of effort and they overrate how much help they need from another. Another argument suggests the strong tie between a parent's pride and their children’s achievementz is so strong that “when they praise their kids; it’s not that far from praising themselves.”

Children need mistakes, praise for mistakes because this will foster perseverance, grit and growth in learning. We need to celebrate failures because these are opportunities! When we celebrate failures it creates our ability to want to try harder, challenge ourselves more versus avoiding what we are not good at. So how do we talk to children? What language should we use? What kind of praise is healthy praise?

The data backs the idea of praising the process not the person, fostering a growth mindset “I can’t yet, or I can try this instead” vs a fixed minds” of "I can't, I'm not smart, I give up".

1. Be specific about what it is you are praising them for. For example “I can see how hard you worked at this” vs “You are so smart”.

2. “It might be time to try a new strategy” gives them control and power of outcomes and choices they have.

3. “It looks like that was an easy one, let’s try a more challenging one so your brain can grow” vs “That’s right, you did that so quickly, great job!”.

4. Another example is being able to tell your child what they know and don’t know but also that you believe in their ability to improve and learn. So if they do get it wrong, tell them “That’s not right, you don’t understand it yet but what strategies can you try to better understand it?” THERE IS POWER IN YET! You don’t know this yet, I can’t yet but....


Person praise “Great job! You must be smart at this.”

Process praise “Great job! You must have worked really hard.”

Person praise “See you are good at English. You got an A on your latest test.”

Process praise “You really studied for your English test and your improvement shows it.”

Person praise “You got it! I told you that you were smart.”

Process praise “I like the way you tried all kinds of strategies on that math problem until you finally got it.”

Person praise “You are such a good student”

Process praise “I love the way you stayed at your desk, you kept your concentration, and you kept on working. That’s great!”

Additional resources referenced:

#Praise #Parenting #GrowthMindset #FixedMindset #Brain #Growth #Learning #Communication

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