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Good Job! Awesome! Way to go! These are some of the common phrases parents and teachers use on a regular basis to encourage their children. Common wisdom suggests that praise goes a long way in building confidence and self esteem in children Right? Wrong. Praise if not used appropriately does more harm than good. It is important to remember that praise is a double edged sword: On the one hand it helps boost confidence of our children if done correctly but on the other hand it can lead to insecurity, misplaced focus and a sense of entitlement thus hampering children’s learning growth.
Researchers Carol Dweck and Claudia Mueller of Columbia University have been studying the importance of mindsets for improving learning outcomes and they have consistently found that when children are praised for intelligence or raw talent rather than effort, majority of children lose the motivation to even try after a single failure. What she found was that children who are used to being praised for their attributes are only interested in end result and tune out any information that could help them learn and improve. If they get the question wrong, they are not even interested in finding the right answer because they had already filed it away in the failure category. This hurts the children immensely in the long run by leaving them ill prepared to deal with failure and learning from it.
The other danger of excessive praise is to make children overly dependent on praise to the extent that they begin to do an activity for the sake of praise rather than the joy it provides. For example if a child loves to draw and we consistently make observations like ‘ Good drawing’ there is huge likelihood that the child will begin to value the reward of praise rather than the pleasure of creating a good artwork. The moment you withdraw the praise or fail to provide a reward, the child will lose interest in the activity.
True self-esteem comes from successfully tackling new things and adapting to things out of one’s comfort zone. However, as parent or a teacher it is hard habit to break. It almost feels like we are being mean to our children or holding ourselves back if we not lavishing them with compliments. As such, one does not have to stop praising children completely. The point is to let our children really earn the praise and that will require a deep sense of engagement of the part of parents and teachers to identify which situations call for praise. We need to ponder about our own motives for the praise and the impact it will have – are we praising because we are genuinely impressed or we are trying to make him or her happy or we are trying to get the child to do what we want him to do. Another thing to watch out for is generic praise like- “You’re a genius!”, or “You’re beautiful. It would be better to be specific and praise their effort- “I liked how persisted with your math problem even though it was tough”, or “Great defending on the field today!” Don’t praise children for things like conventional beauty or athleticism, because they did nothing to earn it.
It definitely makes life harder for us as adults but it will go a long way in encouraging children to engage in positive behaviours rather than turning them into praise junkies. What do you think? I would love to hear your views on this.