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The Right Kind of Praise

I’ve thought a lot about how parents and teachers praise children.  Included in this has been a thoughtful self-analysis – listening to myself – when positively reinforcing students.  In the final analysis, there is significant room for improvement. 


To validate this conclusion, I revisited the literature and re-read some of my favorite authors on the subject of praise.  They include Carol Dweck, a Stanford psychology professor who is widely credited as a leading pioneer in praise research; Kristen Rice, author of Mindful Parenting… ; Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman (recent WeCare speaker) co-authors of NutureShock; and Mothering magazine’s editor and publisher, Peggy  O’Mara.


Here are some take-aways…


Calibrating the style of our praise is one of the most important shifts we can make as parents and educators.


Praise can be put into two categories: process-oriented and outcome-oriented.  The first kind focuses on effort, persistence, and resourcefulness.  Outcome-oriented praise on the other hand, puts the emphasis on the place they arrived rather than the effort exerted to get there.  The former is far more effective than the latter.


Some examples:

  • After your child leaves the soccer field, you don’t need to say, “Nice Kick!” That’s what you do on a soccer field. Kids know when praise is insincere. Rather, “I noticed you made three passes with your left foot!” Being specific shows you’ve been attentive.

  • When looking at a piece of art work resist the urge to say, “That’s beautiful! Good girl!” Instead, say, “Tell me about your picture!” Your mindful engagement and attention are really what they need.

  • When your son shows you a drawing of his Ninjas instead of saying, “What an awesome drawing!” (which will probably just send him on his way), say, “Who’s winning?” I tried that the other day, and the boy lit up and began to weave tales of mayhem and warfare for me.

  • Instead of “You’re Fast!” which ends the story, say, “Your speed has really increased since the beginning of the season!” This sends a totally different message.


Lastly, avoid instant praising.  If you notice a behavior upon which you want to comment, wait.  Maybe on the way home from the park you say, “I noticed how well you were sharing with Jenny.  How did that feel?”  Your child will pick up very quickly that you took the time to think about it.  Thoughtful praise is the best!


Raymond J. Volker


Posted by Raymond Volker on Thursday February, 12, 2015

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