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I read the first chapter in the book, Nurture Shock, by PO Bronson and Ashley Merryman, titled "The Inverse Power of Praise". It really has me thinking about the words I use with Calder.

The book talks about an experiment that was done by Dr. Carol Dweck. Children were given a puzzle that they were capable of doing. After completing the puzzle, one group were praised for being smart and the other group were praised for working hard. The students were then given a choice for the next task, one being a harder puzzle and the second being a puzzle with a degree of difficulty similar to the first. Ninety percent of the students praised for effort chose the harder puzzle. Most of the kids praised for being smart choice the easy puzzle. I know which puzzle I would hope Calder to choose. . . 

After the first two rounds of the experiment, the researchers conducted a third round. Here the test was made extremely difficult so that all the children in the experiment could experience failure. Interestingly, the children who were praised for their hard work in the first task "assumed they simple hadn't focused enough on this test." Those children praised for their smarts "assumed their failure was evidence that they weren't really smart at all." (page 15)

Lastly, the researchers gave the children a puzzle that had a difficulty level equal to that of the first puzzle. The children who were first praised for their effort improved on their initial score by 30%. The children first praised for being smart did worse than they did on their original puzzle by about 20%.

When Hugh and I list off the hand full of qualities we dream for Calder to possess, hardworking is one of them. Yet, when it comes to praise, we often tell him he is smart. Rarely, do we praise him on working hard at something. 

And interestingly, telling him he is smart could actually be completely backfiring on us. We are trying to fill him with confidence and self-esteem, but it looks our words may not be having the affect on him that we had hoped.

This experiment just a small part of the first chapter. There is plenty of other research quoted in the book on the kinds of praise and its affect on children. I am definitely intrigued and will continue to read and be very aware of the words I use the praise my son.

Food. For. Thought.


  1. In the Montessori approach, we don't praise kids at all (other then a simple 'good job'). Instead the focus is on pride within the child. So, for instance, if a child performed a task exceptionally, the teacher would say "You must be very proud of YOUR hard work and accomplishment!". Basically it is all part of the independent mode of thinking that a child needs to find satisfaction with their hard work in their own outcomes and not from outside forces.

    When it comes to my own kids though, I praise A LOT (too much perhaps???) in every way. I think children thrive on positive reinforcement. To me, praise seems to be a positive feedback loop. When we tell the kids we think they did a good job they seem to work even harder the next time.

  2. A friend and I were recently talking about exactly what you said in the first paragraph. I think it is great. We have been starting to say those kinds of things with Calder.

    We praise a lot too. And I agree praise is great - the more specific it is, the better! I do think there can be too much praise though, but I have no clue where that line is! I believe that kids should be able to do things without being praised. I want my kids to be internally motivated (aka proud of themselves) vs extrinsically motivated (looking for me to pat them on the back). It is a fine line

    Parenting is hard! So many things to think about!

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