The Way You Praise Your Children Can Improve Their Intellectual Development

How to encourage a hunger for knowledge in your child by using praise!

In this article, I am going to present research on how children respond to praise. This research exhibits that children can be encouraged to develop a tenacious mindset in relation to learning. This tenacity will aid your children in achieving success in their academic and professional lives.

People are complex beings and we are all unique. Despite our differences, the way we respond to praise is fairly consistent. Praise is a reward and receiving a reward inspires determination. This starts at a very young age.

When training a dog, we give a reward for a job well done. This usually results in the dog continuing to seek the reward and perform the task being asked of him repeatedly.

For humans, our preferred reward is also praise for performing well. However, after some research, I have found the way in which humans are praised is what makes the difference between success and failure. Practicing these techniques can be beneficial in children as young as 1–3 years old!

There is an exciting study that has come out led by Carol Dweck, a professor of psychology at Stanford University. This study examines how to teach children to develop a “growth” mindset as opposed to a “fixed” mindset.

The differences between “fixed” and “growth” mindsets are very similar to the “nature verses nurture” debate. Fixed is the belief that intelligence and motivation is something you are born with. A growth mindset is a belief that intelligence and ambition are something that can be developed over time and through adversity.

The Study

Carol Dweck studied 373 middle school students. She identified each student as either having a “growth” mindset or a “fixed” mindset. Dweck followed the students from the start of the seventh grade and until the end of the eighth grade. There was a very obvious difference between the two groups and their level of achievement upon the commencement of the study.

The grades of the children who had “growth” mindsets were better. The children with the “fixed” mindsets had lower performance scores and exhibited boredom in school frequently.

Dweck noticed that the children with the “fixed” mindsets did not want to venture outside of their realm of knowledge. They feared other students thinking they were incompetent. Therefore, they avoided attempting any projects out of their comfort zone.

The children with the “growth” mindset, did not care if their mistakes were observed by their peers. They realized that making mistakes is a normal part of learning. Their problem-solving skills were advanced.

Another difference was how the two groups viewed failure. The fixed mindset group viewed failure as proof that one does not have innate intelligence. They tended to give up much quicker than the other group. The group with the growth mindset recognized that success is achieved through hard work and mistakes, not just natural intellect.

The last comparison exhibited that children with a“fixed” mindset were more likely to experience boredom in school. Whereas, children with the growth mindset looked at their school projects and assignments as critical thinking lessons. This way of thinking kept the students engaged and excited about learning.

So how does this study encourage praise as a tool used to improve your child’s success rate?

Dweck and her team divided a group of 11-year-olds into three groups. They gave each of them a fairly easy but age-appropriate intelligence test. In the end, they praised each of the kids in one of three ways:

  • They praised one group for their innate intelligence.
  • They praised one group for the processes they came up with to solve the test.
  • They praised the third group for a passing score, without mentioning either their intelligence or the process they had used.

Results? The first part won’t surprise you. Praising their intelligence pushed the kids into a fixed mindset. Praising their effort and process, on the other hand, pushed them into a growth mindset.

Dweck said things went further: “The most astonishing thing to us was that praising intelligence turned kids off to learning.”¹

It seems that the children in a fixed mindset believe that they have nothing left to learn. The children in the growth group were hungry to learn in opposition. Children in the growth mindset loved to learn and solve problems. As we all know, problem-solving is a big part of learning from a very young age. Babies develop methods of problem-solving before they can even walk!

So how do we encourage a growth mindset in our children? Here are a few ways:

  • Tell your child that their brain develops as they get older, that life is about constantly learning.
  • Encourage them after they fail to learn to do something. Teach them that failure is a part of the learning process.
  • If they succeed at something that is below their skill level, say “Well that was obviously too easy for you, how about we try this activity next?” This encourages them to always be challenging themselves.
  • Praise effort over success. If you praise their effort, they are learning that isn’t as important if they achieved something or not. This teaches them that their effort and how they got there is what makes them a winner. As a result, they will understand that their intellectual growth and not innate intelligence is why they are achieving their goals.

Children thrive when praised. I am a mother and Carol Dweck’s study has intrigued me! We should all rethink how we praise our children so they can grow into motivated adults in the future. After all, I want my child to be proud of her efforts and overcome adversity with strength and tenacity.

As Ralph Waldo Emerson once said “it’s the journey, not the destination”.

[1]: Bill Murphy Jr. (November 28, 2016). Want to Raise Successful Kids? Science Says Praise Them Like This (but Most Parents Do the Opposite)

Wife, mother, and researcher of a myriad of subjects. I love to write about anything and everything! Writer for The Startup, Better Marketing, & The Ascent👊

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