This article by Vicki Hoefle is a great reminder to parents of the importance of offering children our encouragement rather than our praise. Praising kids for being "smart" (or "fast" or "strong" or "beautiful") makes them more likely to link that trait with their identity - their sense of self. This becomes problematic if they don't bring home the A, don't win the game, etc. Since their identity is linked to those traits, children who have a less than perfect performance often feel their whole identity called into question ("I guess I'm not smart after all."). Researchers have found that children praised for their performance or for specific traits are often less likely to pursue a more challenging task and are more inclined to cheat. On the other hand, children who are encouraged, or praised for their effort, learn important problem-solving skills and tie their performance not to being smart vs. dumb, or a winner vs. a loser, but rather to the amount of effort they put in -- something which (unlike IQ or natural talent) is within their control. Breaking the habit of praising our smart, fast, handsome children for these traits can be difficult, but it is important for parents to model for their children that good compassionate habits are worth the effort.
Read Vicki Hoefle's full article on PBS.org here.
About the Author
Clinical psychologist Dr. Kristy Novinski contributes insights, book and film reviews, discussions of pop culture, and exploration of news and research in the field of psychology.