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October 26, 2016

13 Comments

How to praise your child: why simply saying ‘well done’ is not helpful

How do you react when you hear expressions like “well done”, “another A grade”, “aren’t you clever” and “great work”?

Maybe you use them yourself with your children in the belief that it will encourage them to work hard and do well.

It turns out that praise like this is not helpful and can actually damage children. Stanford University researcher Carol Dweck has shown that generalised praise of this kind can all too easily create learners who have what she calls a “fixed mindset”.

These children are afraid to make mistakes, unlikely to put in the necessary effort and, most importantly, unwilling to really practise because they have a fixed view of how smart they are.

When you label a child as “clever” you are not helping them. For smart kids can all too easily think that effort is something that only those who are less clever have to put in to achieve results.

Instead we need to be specific with our praise and focus on how the outcome was achieved:

I really noticed how much effort you put into selecting interesting vocabulary in your opening paragraph. Well done!

Or we might want more explicitly to connect the effort and the result in the child’s mind by asking:

Tell me how you organised your practice so that you managed to play that piece so beautifully.

How to give effective feedback

Praise which helps children see that success is a function of effort or practice or certain learning strategies develop a “growth mindset.” With this mindset, children believe their intelligence can increase through hard work and they value learning over performance.

Why does that matter? Young people with this mindset outperform their peers on tests and examinations, as well as develop vital capabilities like persistence. In short they become better learners.

In the same spirit, when children tell us that they can’t do something we need to firmly rephrase their pessimism by suggesting they can’t yet do it.

As parents and teachers it is helpful if we present learning as an activity which almost always involves a level of struggle to achieve mastery.

At dinner time, this could be an opportunity for parents to share something which they are struggling to learn in their work. Or a teacher might take the opportunity to praise a group of students for sticking with a tricky maths problem rather than giving up.

The teacher might also encourage them to share the methods they used with the rest of the class.

She or he might also encourage students to share their essay drafts or design prototypes so that everyone gets the message that successful learners review, reflect and improve everything that they do.

By explicitly modelling learning as a process which requires effort and strategy, students begin to see that discretionary effort is the key to success in life and in examinations or tests.

Feedback consistency between parents and teachers

How we praise children for their achievements is crucially important in shaping the ways in which children see themselves. And since teachers and parents or carers are the most influential adults in children’s lives, the importance of good home-school communication is vitally important in engaging parents.

Australia has taken a huge step forward by releasing a new tool to help parents and teachers take a consistent, supportive approach to developing family-school partnerships.

This is a significant milestone in guiding how parents and teachers can have authentic conversations with students about complex issues and provide structured support for learning.

As schools in Victoria implement the new focus on developing ways to assess what is often unhelpfully labelled as “soft skills” – such as solving problems in a group, coming up with good ideas, and changing your mind in the light of new evidence – the way teachers praise students will help to determine whether we see the kind of growth in resilience which politicians have laid down as a target.

It will also impact on the way young people develop critical and creative thinking skills such as higher-order questioning, reasoning skills and meta-cognitive processes.

As Carol Dweck puts it:

If parents want to give their children a gift, the best thing they can do is to teach their children to love challenges, be intrigued by mistakes, enjoy effort and keep on learning.

The same applies equally to teachers. Together they can help to develop the capable young Australians all parents and all teachers want to see.

Share your comments below.

Image via depositphotos

The ConversationBill Lucas, International adviser, Mitchell Institute, Victoria University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

  • Good to be aware indeed on how we praise our children. Same goes up for how we correct our children.

    Reply

  • If my kids do a good job, I often say well done. It’s usually accompanied with an explanation of why I think it’s well done. I think kids respond well to lots of praise, they need it

    Reply

  • A good read on a different way of doing things. It’s kind of situational – sometimes praise is needed and at other times I guess this approach could be applicable.

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  • This article is BS. Parents have been praising kids for eons.

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  • Great read ! So important to be specific in your praises.

    Reply

  • Positive and genuine praise is a good thing. :)

    Reply

  • I think it gives a child a boost of confidence when they are praised the first time they achieve something new…when they do it…not later. But don’t repeat it every time they do the same thing. That is taking it too far….is damaging as they expect it to be said by everybody all the time.

    Reply

  • I think we are over thinking a lot of these things. When I say well done, it’s for finishing a book, winning a race, good spelling test, eating all their veggies. They know what they’re getting it for. I really think this is going over the top

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  • As a teacher, we are told not to make a generalised praise, be specific so children know what they did well. Specific praises also helps other students know what you expect and will try to produce work that is specifically what you asked from them.

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  • There are way too many things we as parents need to worry about. It is exhusting trying to remember what to say and what not to.

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  • I say it all the time to my little one

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  • You need to be balanced – praise children when it’s fitting, and give them words of encouragement when they need to try a little harder.

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  • It didn’t seem to harm me growing up!

    Reply

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