Article: The importance of praising effort rather than outcome in your children (it's not what they do, it's they way that they do it)

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LocalEditorLewisham Tue 04-Aug-15 00:02:33

We all know it's important to offer praise to our children. But is there really such a thing as the 'right' way to do it? Well, yes, according to the findings from a recent seven year study.

We're delighted to present this viewpoint from Dr Dr Elyse Waites, Head of Biology at Sydenham High School GDST. Let us know what you think.

As reported in the Sunday Times (7 June 2015), the eminent psychologist Prof Carol Dweck has just published her findings from a seven-year study into the impact of praise on children. She found that mothers who praised the effort their children put into a task rather than the results of that task, raised individuals who were not only more resilient but who also had higher test scores in maths and languages and were more willing to attempt problem solving exercises.

The term coined for this is ‘process praise’ and the theory is that by praising a child’s efforts, strategies or approach to a problem, rather than their innate intelligence, you are showing them that success isn’t ‘fixed’ and rewards come from hard work and practice.

This results in children who are aware that they can change and develop their intelligence as they grow and will therefore be more open to challenges in the future as well as better equipped to cope with setbacks.

Praising innate intelligence fosters children who become overly concerned with doing well and continually proving their intelligence. They end up avoiding challenging tasks in case they are ‘found out’ and they are shown to not be quite as intelligent as everyone thought. This undermines achievement and motivation, allowing children to give up or opt out when things get hard. They will think that if you have to try then it’s surely not worth the effort - you should be able to do it without trying shouldn’t you?

Praising effort or process, however, gives children motivation and resilience and encourages them to keep learning. If they know that they are rewarded for effort, hard work, thinking and questioning then they will continue doing this. The more of this they do, the more resilient they will become and the more they will succeed. They won’t mind if they get something wrong in class because they know it is the questioning that is important and they will just ask another one until they get the answer. A child who lacks resilience is one who is either too scared to put their hand up in case they look stupid or one who gets an answer wrong in class in September and is then convinced they are ‘rubbish’ at that subject for the rest of the year, never putting their hand up again.

There are many articles on this topic, referencing some excellent and engaging research, but what is currently lacking are real life examples of how you can do this at home with your children.

Introducing this into your daily routine and conversations with your children will be a culture change and it won’t come naturally at first; you might feel rather mean not telling your children that they are wonderful at everything they do, but it is important to focus on the long term goal of a more secure, resilient and ultimately successful child.

If you think your child could benefit from this then here are a few tips and hints to get you started:

Example of praise : Wow, you are so good at History you don’t even have to try
What your child hears : I’d better stop trying or they won’t think i’m good at anything
Alternative 'process praise : You worked really hard for that essay; I was so impressed by your concentration / planning / research / time management….

Example of praise : You did those sums so quickly - you’re so clever
What your child hears You have to do something quickly to be good at it
Alternative 'process praise : Those sums must have been a bit easy for you, see if you can write some harder ones.

Example of praise : You’re brilliant at English, you must be top of the class.
What your child hears : Better keep getting good marks in English or i’ll be found out. That means no risk taking, just safe plodding work.
Alternative 'process praise : You always focus really well on your English work and you deserve your good marks / good report as you put in a lot of hard work / effort.

Example of praise : 90% is such an excellent result, you’re obviously a natural scientist
What your child hears : If it don’t get 90% next time I will never be able to be a scientist.
Alternative 'process praise' : 90% is great; it means you improved by 5% on your last test which shows you have learned from your mistakes.

Try to reserve praise for when your child makes progress with something that they struggle with. You know your children better than anyone so you know what they find easy and what they don’t. If they always do well in English and writing essays is second nature but they find French vocabulary tough to remember, praise them when they improve by a mark in a French test rather than get another A in English. This is not to say that their English essay doesn’t deserve praise but make it constructive and in response to some improvement in a particular area (planning or spelling perhaps).

We all want our children to believe that their success at school and later in life is in their own hands; that it isn’t pre-determined by genetics or a postcode. Making this simple but effective switch in your attitude to praise will give your children the confidence and resilience to face challenges and the motivation to face up to failure and setbacks.

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For more information on Sydenham High School visit sydenhamhighschool.gdst.net.

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