“You are smart!”
I’ve said it to my kids thousands of times over the years. And it’s terrible, awful parenting.
Really, it is. Telling kids they are good, or smart, or talented is a surefire way to decrease their motivation and reduce future performance.
One of the most common parenting mistakes is to think they need to support their kids by telling them they are good at math, or singing, or something the kids are actually pretty good at doing. We feel we need to help their self-esteem.
We can’t help it because we love them so much.
Of course we want tell our kids they are good and smart and talented. You’ve probably said this to your kids thousands of times over the years. I still say it to my kids sometimes, even though I know it’s terrible parenting – I can’t help myself.
Really, there is a better way to praise your kids. There are better things to say, phrases which can unlock your kids potential, and greatly increase their motivation and happiness.
Praise Effort, not Results
The idea is to praise kids for effort. Effort is something the kids can control.
Effort is something kids can change and control. Praising them for effort will allow your kids to gain your praise by doing something they can control.
The results and outcome of the task are far more variable. Innate talent is something the kids cannot control at all. So praising the kids for their talent or the outcome does not give them any way to please you they can change or easily impact.
Kids can control how much effort they put into a task. Working hard is a conscious choice even for young kids.
Let this sink in for a minute. Praising them for effort will allow your kids to gain your praise by doing something they can control.
This is something you can do right now to improve your relationship with your child. This is something you can implement today which will help your kid feel better about themselves. It’s just changing a few words from “You’re good” to “You must have tried really hard”, but the impact will be dramatic.
How dramatic? The difference is so unbelievable, the researchers didn’t believe the results.
In a formal study on this type of praise, kids were divided into two different groups, and then given a pretty simple test. Of course, the kids all did well on the test. This was a test of how praise would impact their future performance.
After the test, one group of kids were told, “You must be smart at this”, and the other kids were told, “You must have worked really hard hard.” That’s it – just one sentence. No other praise was given to the kids.
The kids were then given a second test, but were given a choice between a harder test and an easier test.
Kids in the group who were praised for effort:
- 90% of them opted for the harder test (!)
- Performed 30% better on the same first easy test
Kids that were praised for their intelligence:
- Less than 50% opted for the harder test
- Performed 20% worse on the same easy test when it was given again
The person who performed this study couldn’t believe the results. So they reran the test and got the same results. Then they ran it another 4 times.It does not seem possible that a single sentence said just one time could have this much impact.
But it did. Just a single instance of praising for effort resulted in massive behavior changes for the kids.
Think about how much impact praising for effort could have if praising for effort was your standard interaction with your kids. Imagine the cumulative results over years of reinforcement, over years of rewarding hard work with recognition of the effort.
This good impact is what we wanted when we were praising our kids for being talented and smart. We thought we were laying down good reinforcement to help them succeed in school, and later in life. It turns out the intentions were good, but the method was not so good.
You might be wondering how you personally can change what you say to your kids, so you automatically praise for effort instead of talent or outcome. We use Tiny Habits to help people create lasting changes in their own behavior, and then combine this with the best practices of the best teachers in the world to create lasting results for your child.
Praising for effort is something we cover extensively in our program. You’ll get exact phrases, and when to say them, along with ideas on how to implement with your own unique kids. Praising for effort is a behavior change which you can make completely on your own, and it is likely to have an incredible positive impact on how your kids perform in school and the rest of their life.
To get more on how to praise your kids in a way which will motivate them to do their best, click here and sign up for the report.