Monday, April 09, 2007

Too Much Praise?

While at my Mom and Dad's house for Easter, my oldest brother pulled me aside and told me about an article he had read called "How Not To Talk To Your Kids." He said that basically kids who were praised for their intelligence too often ended up being more interested in maintaining that recognition of being smart, instead of wanting to be challenged in their activities. He mentioned a study by Carol Dweck in which fifth grade students were separated into two groups and each given a puzzle to solve. When the puzzle was completed, one group was praised for how smart they were that they were able to solve it. The other group was praised for how hard they worked in order to solve it. When each group was then offered a choice between doing a puzzle of similar challenge to the first, or one that was more difficult, overwhelmingly the children praised for their intelligence chose the one that was the same as the first puzzle. On the other hand, the group praised for their effort overhwelmingly chose the more difficult puzzle.

I have to admit, I was intrigued. I consider my kids to be pretty smart, and know that my oldest has a bad habit of giving up on tasks he thinks are too difficult. I just put it up to his personality, that because things have come easily for him he doesn't like it when they don't. And while that may be part of it, I needed to know more.

So, I searched the internet and found the article my brother was referring to. It is from New York Magazine and can be read in full here.

Dweck had suspected that praise could backfire, but even she was surprised by the magnitude of the effect. “Emphasizing effort gives a child a variable that they can control,” she explains. “They come to see themselves as in control of their success. Emphasizing natural intelligence takes it out of the child’s control, and it provides no good recipe for responding to a failure.”

I found it extremely compelling and think it should be required reading for all parents and teachers. I know I will be trying to modify my praise for my kids, telling them specifically what they did that was so important, not generalized empty praise.


Anonymous said...


I think my grandchildren are VERY INTELLIGENT. I, however, are less inclined to trust "experts' studies" than I am to trust the instincts and judgements of intelligent, well educated and loving parents. Don't discount your and Brendan's own judgements in these matters. Not that you shouldn't consider others, but give good value to your own.


Kila said...

I'll have to try that. My oldest is "gifted". Schoolwork has always been easy for him, and people often comment on how "smart" he is. This year he actually has to WORK a little on his schoolwork, and it's been a shock to him. He's used to getting all A's without effort, and it's not happening this year!