The First of March is World Compliment Day, a day to accept compliments and, more importantly, to give compliments to others.
We all like to hear nice things that are being said about ourselves. Having positive feedback boosts our confidence, raises our motivation, and makes us feel good about ourselves. Giving praises also boost morale and empathy.
But did you know that giving "wrong" kinds of praises can inadvertently lead to low self-esteem in children?
Sounds counter-intuitive, doesn't it?
Saying "You're so smart" or "You're great at math," for example, focuses on a child’s innate qualities, which can actually be harmful, possibly because it suggests that these qualities are fundamental to the child’s identity. Kids who hear this kind of “person praise” may be less persistent after a failure or avoid difficult tasks in favor of easier ones, perhaps because a failure would threaten that identity. In other words, if they encountered difficulties, they would tell themselves, "I'm just not that smart."
They may also be more keenly attuned to potential mistakes. In a 2012 study, Zentall and Bradley Morris used eye-tracking technology to show that young kids who had heard person praise (“You’re a good drawer”) focused more on the errors in a drawing. This ties in with mindset theory, an idea developed by Stanford University psychologist Carol Dweck that suggests that a fixed mindset — the belief that abilities are innate and unchangeable — undermines personal progress.
By contrast, process praise focuses on what or how the kid did: “You must have studied hard for that math test,” or simply, “Good job!” Some research co-authored by Dweck has shown that after kids hear this kind of feedback, they’re more motivated on future tasks and more resilient to setbacks.
By contrast, process praise focuses on what the kid did: “You must have studied hard for that math test,” or simply, “Good job!” Some research co-authored by Dweck has shown that after kids hear this kind of feedback, they’re more motivated on future tasks and more resilient to setbacks. Another study from Zentall and Morris found that when kindergartners heard a mix of the two praise types, process praise was more motivating.
Sometimes when adults see children perform well, behave nicely, or act cute, they over-exaggerate in their praises to children. It is indisputable that praises can promote self-esteem and positivity. But for children to be open to challenges and not shy away from making mistakes, here are some things we can help them along:
1. Describe your child's concrete action, attitude, and process, instead of empty praises.
You wanted to say:
"You're the best!"
"You're so smart."
"You did it!"
"I see you've worked so hard on this, and it's paying off."
"I like the details you've put into your work."
"You didn't give up and kept trying. You should be proud of yourself."
"You worked so hard on this!"
"You persevered! That was brave of you."
2. If you didn't know what to say exactly, use positive and auxiliary words to go with your facial expressions and body gestures.
Eyes locked and engaged
Face and body turned fully toward the person
Patting on shoulders
Cheering with both hands in the air
So, as a general rule, praising a child’s effort and actions, rather than their qualities, seems to be priority number one. All of these choices are just to express to the child, "I'm acknowledging your performance. You did well or keep at it." You can vary and adjust your facial expressions, body gestures, and the volume or the tone of your voice to indicate the degree of your child's accomplishment. For example, when your child has done exceptionally well, you can show a big smile while nodding your head, increase the frequency of the clapping, and use a higher pitch voice to say, "WOW!" Your child will feel confident, loved, and being affirmed by you.
Let us know what you think.
Do you think there's a wrong way to praise others?