Praise Effort rather than Intelligence

Just the other day, my wife highlighted a Parenting Approach to me…

kids playing

In Singapore, we always praise our kids for being “So Smart” “So Clever”, or just simply saying “Good Job!” However, studies have shown that we should praise kids for making the effort rather than just their intelligence.

Children who don’t attempt things they won’t be successful at, may come from misguided praise. In fact, giving kids the label of “smart” does not prevent them from under-performing. It might actually be causing it!

Psychologist have found that “When we praise children for their intelligence,”  “we tell them that this is the name of the game: Look smart, don’t risk making mistakes.” And that’s what the fifth-graders had done: They’d chosen to look smart and avoid the risk of being embarrassed.

A few years ago Carol Dweck, a top psychologist, took 400 students and gave them a simple puzzle.

Afterwards, the students were given six words of praise.

Half were Praised for intelligence: “Wow, you must be really smart!”

The other half were Praised for effort: “Wow, you must be hard working!”

Dweck was testing whether these simple words could alter the students’ mindsets. The results were remarkable.

After the first test, the students were given a choice of whether to take a hard or an easy test.

Two thirds of the students praised for intelligence chose the easy task – they did not want to risk losing their “smart” label.

page boy

But 90 per cent of the effort-praised group chose the tough test – they wanted to prove how hard-working they were. Then, the experiment came full circle, giving students a chance to take a test of equal difficulty to the first.

The group praised for intelligence dropped 20 per cent compared with the first test, though it was no harder. But the effort-praised group improved by 30 per cent. Failure had actually spurred them on.

“These were some of the clearest findings I’ve seen,” Dweck said.

“Praising children’s intelligence harms motivation and it harms performance.”

The reason is simple: Praising intelligence nudges children towards the fixed mindset – it suggests that intelligence is of primary importance rather than the effort through which intelligence can be transformed.

This reveals a radical new approach – we should praise effort, not talent and we should teach kids to see challenges as learning opportunities rather than threats.

When parents and teachers adopt this approach, and stick to it, the results are remarkable. Kids will just keep trying and trying…till the task is complete. I would love that more than ‘so clever’ kids, don’t you? Smile

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