We all know that praise is a positive thing and it can encourage us to go forward. Getting compliments gives a happy feeling which provides additional inspiration to the tasks we are dealing with. With that being said, parents and those who work with children are possibly generous and acting in good faith when it comes to giving compliments.
But is it always useful? Can compliments under any circumstances do more harm than good? Is it possible that under some circumstances when encouraging children with compliments we may unconsciously frighten children from dealing with challenges?
Yes, it certainly can!
Many people are of the opinion that parents can increase their children’s self confidence and consequently their school achievements by complimenting children on their intelligence. Repeatedly we hear parents telling their children how great and bright they are. Of course it’s the parent’s desire that such compliments will increase their children’s self confidence and help adopt a variety of desirable characteristics.
However, compliments can also cause children to get scared of making mistakes. Giving praise to children for intelligence destroys motivation and reduces performance. This has been confirmed by many studies and the results seem irrefutable.
How should we give praise to children?
This is a natural and normal question. Bear in mind that intelligence is not a fixed number. Intelligence can grow with challenging tasks but can also reduce if there isn’t enough stimulation of the brain.
Consequently, it’s important to send children the message that they always have a chance to grow, prosper and succeed. Success requires hard work and persistence rather than a number indicating how smart we are. We should celebrate and draw attention to when children actually finish something after showing persistence and dedication.
Stage of your baby’s developmental level does matter.
Babies younger than 18 month of age thrive on praise, while older children benefit more from praise which motivates them to further explore on their own. Start to encourage and giving praise on independence at 24 months of age.
Try to be specific, consistent, honest and straightforward
Insincere praise is not only ineffective but can also be harmful. Children can sense insincerity and may get the feeling that you are giving praises because you pity them or are trying to control and influence them.
Praise qualities and characteristics that are within your child’s power to change.
Every child is unique. Giving praises to children’s talents or intelligence has shown a tendency to backfire. They start showing fear of taking risks and avoid challenges which prevent children from further developing their skills. We should rather focus on celebrating and drawing attention to when children actually finish something after showing persistence and dedication.
Use descriptive praise which provides realistic and sensible idea of what can be achieved and is expected.
Show more feelings than just making a judgment with saying something like “great work kid!” Descriptive praise has shown to work better when encouraging children. Instead, use a descriptive praise such as: “I really enjoyed reading your school project. The results are very interesting and I can understand why it was so important to you.”
Also keep in mind to make sure your baby can live up to the praise. Otherwise she can get the feeling that your expectations are unrealistic and feel inadequate.
Don’t be too prone to give credit for achievements that are easily solved.
As kids get older they start putting more meaning to what you’re actually saying. By giving praises for solving relatively easy tasks they can get the feeling that you consider them dumb.
Do not give too much praise for things your child already loves doing.
Constantly given praise for something children love doing can have the opposite effect to what was the intention and reduce your child’s motivation and interest. It’s alright to give praise for something your kid loves – Just don’t overdo it.
Encourage your children to focus on their own abilities
Don’t compare them with others. It can certainly be encouraging to be best at something. However, if your child stops being best at some time it’s likely to lose motivation. Children who are used to getting praise through social comparison have a tendency to become sore losers.
In this context, it is interesting how much people achieved despite having made a number of mistakes.
Some teachers said that Thomas Edison was too stupid to learn. However, after making 3.000 mistakes in inventing the light bulb he got a patent on the idea.
J.K. Rowling, the author of Harry potter, was a broke, single mom when she got the idea of the novel while riding a train from Manchester to London. She used every evening to write, when the opportunity provided. She found an agent in the 2nd attempt and was rejected by many publishers before her first book was finally published.
Abraham Lincoln failed as a business man and was demoted while serving in the army in 1832. In the same year he failed his lawyer’s exam and had a nervous breakdown in 1836. He lost congress elections and a vice president election before finally elected as the president of the USA in 1860. Now many consider him to be the most remarkable president in the nation’s history.
When Winston Churchill was a kid, teachers considered him to be too independent and rebellious. He was sat among the worst students in class. He stuttered and struggled with speech and needed to take the military’s admission test three times before finally being accepted. Nevertheless, he became the prime minister of Britain in 1940 and many consider his inspirational speeches during the Second World War to be among the best speeches in history.
The above examples are only a small fraction of what can be found on the success of people that have achieved great things due to hard work and persistence. The role of teaching should not only be academic. It’s important to create circumstances that make children, responsible, curious and searching for answers. We need to make them ready to deal with uncertainty, challenges, new perspectives and mistakes.
Knowledge isn’t what all kids need. They are human beings, and as any other human being, they have a need to strengthen their ability of surviving in a complex world. It’s not just about being good at learning what can be found in books.
Qualities such as diligence and persistence and to be willing to do hard work even when faced with new but difficult challenges are also important.