How do we praise our child when he gets home with an A+ or a C-?
The way we react to that grade on a piece of paper, sends a message to our child and will shape his way of thinking and doing things for the rest of his life. This is no exaggeration!
Of course, as Dweck (2008) says, “No parent thinks, “I wonder what I can do today to undermine my children, subvert their effort, turn them off learning, and limit their achievement.” They think, “I would do anything, give anything, to make my children successful.” Every word and action can send a message and it tells our children what and how to think about themselves. It is remarkable how sensitive little ones are so sensitive to these messages, and how concerned they are about them.
In his thought-provoking book Mindset (pg. 174), Dweck invites to listen for the message in the following examples:
“You learned that so quickly! You’re so smart!”
“Look at the drawing. Martha, is he the next Picasso or what?”
“You’re so brilliant; you got an A without even studying!”
These comments seem as supportive, esteem boosting messages, but this is what children really hear:
“If I don’t learn something quickly, I’m not smart.”
“I shouldn’t try drawing anything hard or they’ll see I’m no Picasso.”
“I’d better quit studying or they won’t think I’m brilliant.”
Let’s be careful with these words, “You are so smart, you are so talented, you are such a natural athlete.” Praising children’s intelligence harms their motivation and it harms their performance. When we praise them for doing something quickly and perfectly, they will not take anything challenging, because everything for them will have to feel easy so they don’t disappoint us, their teachers and parents.
“But, how can this be? Don’t children love to be praised? They do like to be praised for their intelligence and talent. It gives them a boost, a special glow—but only for a moment. The minute they hit a snag, their confidence goes out the window and their motivation hits rock bottom. If success means they‘re smart, then failure means they’re dumb” (pg. 175).
We, parents and teachers, think that we can hand our children permanent confidence by praising their brains and talents. It doesn’t work, and in fact has the opposite effect. It makes children doubt themselves as soon as anything is hard or anything goes wrong. “If parents want to give their children a gift, the best thing they can do is to teach their children to love challenges, be intrigues by mistake, enjoy effort, and keep on learning. That way, their children don’t have to be slaves of praise. They will have a lifelong way to build and repair their own confidence” (pg. 176).
We don’t have to stop praising our children; we just change the kind of praise. Praise them for their practice, study, persistence, and good strategies. Our praise can look liked this, “That puzzle was hard, and you persisted, you took breaks and kept on trying, you looked for strategies and found patterns. This was not easy for you, but you didn’t give up!”
Either our children get a C or an A, praise effort, not intelligence! Thus, our children won’t give up or won’t quit when something is challenging!
Now, as teacher and parents, should we lower our standards so our children can have it easy and may feel better about themselves? NO way! Great parents and “teachers set high standards and believe in the growth of the intellect and talent, and they are fascinated with the process of learning” (pg. 194). We need to challenge, nurture and foment the love for learning. We need to set higher standards and give our children way of reaching them. Don’t ask for free-mistakes; ask for full commitment and full effort.
Remember, celebrate learning, not grades!
Most importantly, remember that each word and action our children witness carries a message in their minds for the rest of their lives. These messages shape their way of thinking; and their way of thinking shape how they see challenges, success, failures, and even life and how they react and do with all these things.
CELEBRATE LEARNING, not grades. Our children will be what they think they are. May God help us as we raise the human treasures we love so much!
Yanina Jimenez, M.Ed.
To know more about setting the right mindset in your children, in you, in your marriage, in your workplace, in your family, read the following book!
Carol S. Dweck, P. D. (2008). Mindset the new pshychology of success. New York: Ballantine Books
Another book that I love so much and has a lot of insight about this topic is EDUCATION by EGW.