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How not to talk to your kids

Turns out that praising your kids for their intelligence can actually make them achieve less, according to this New York Magazine article.

Scholars from Reed College and Stanford reviewed over 150 praise studies. Their meta-analysis determined that praised students become risk-averse and lack perceived autonomy. The scholars found consistent correlations between a liberal use of praise and students’ “shorter task persistence, more eye-checking with the teacher, and inflected speech such that answers have the intonation of questions.”

Dweck’s research on overpraised kids strongly suggests that image maintenance becomes their primary concern—they are more competitive and more interested in tearing others down. A raft of very alarming studies illustrate this.

In one, students are given two puzzle tests. Between the first and the second, they are offered a choice between learning a new puzzle strategy for the second test or finding out how they did compared with other students on the first test: They have only enough time to do one or the other. Students praised for intelligence choose to find out their class rank, rather than use the time to prepare.

The number one take home lesson from this article? Be specific when you compliment your children. Don’t tell them how smart they are – compliment them on how hard they worked on that last homework problem.

18 Responses to “How not to talk to your kids”

  1. makanuiblues Says:

    The article presents a good generalization. Different kids, however, respond differently to different stimuli. I have kids in my class that can’t handle praise. Once you praise them, they immediately do things to get back in their comfort zone – not at the top of the class – not at a place where they can fall from. While sharing results on a test can stimulate some to compete it can cause some to give up and have bad self esteem. “I never score high, so why try.” Unwarranted praise can stop growth with a false sense of talent.

    When handing out random praise we are teaching kids that approval is more important than product. Do we want to develop a generation that bases decisions on what others think? A child might think: I will be teased if I play with for the the unpopular kid, so I even though I like him, I won’t jeopardize my position with my peers. And adult might think: I will be ostracized if I stand up for the unpopular race, so I’ll let discrimination stand. If children are given tools to self-evaluate, they may value their own opinions over the group think. Sometimes young adults give “praise” for bad things. So and so is “cool” for being a bully or supplying drugs. Children who make product-based decisions rather than praise-based decisionsi might make better decisions.

    Effective praise is very specific: I like the way you tried a new strategy on that math problem. I like the way you organized you work so others could understand it. I like the way you re-read the part of the paragraph you didn’t understand – how did it help you? Praise is also effective when you have to render constructive criticism: I like the way you used a lot of descriptive words in your essay, now let’s work on putting your ideas in a logical order. These praise statements have a purpose of reinforcing positive behavior over giving kids a “feel good biscuit”

    One other thing. The overimportance of standarized tests are causing a similar reaction with teachers. The need to get a high ranking with test scores dominates over preparing our children for the future.

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