Perils of Praising Our Children for Being “Smart” & Better Ways to Praise Them!

“Whoa! You did such a great job. That’s super smart!” 

“You’re so talented in mathematics! You’ll be a mathematician.”

Familiar with the above praises? You probably think there is nothing wrong with such compliments because the kids love them after all. However, there is much more to it than that. This week we are extending our previous topic about growth and fixed mindset to effective praises. Some of you may want to change the way our kids are being praised after this.

What happens when the children think that they’re smart? Obviously, they want to maintain their intelligence, they want to wear the ‘smarty pants’ crown always. Gradually, they grow to become averse to challenges, afraid of trying new things that will make them look ‘less smart’. They want to stay in that comfort zone of being a ‘smart’ kid for the adults & friends. In this case, mistakes become something horrible and fearful to them when instead, mistakes are huge stepping stones in the journey of learning. They slowly turn into a passive learner because they want to be our ‘smart kids’.

Change that. Make effective praises. Tell them they do fantastic jobs, show them what have they done well, praise their effort for being resilient, tell them their imagination is running wild, notice their creativity, etc, but don’t use that ‘S’ word when what it does is merely stopping them to grow active. If it confuses you, worry not. Let’s make it clearer of how we can provide positive feedback to our kids. There are 2 types of praises – descriptive and evaluative praises.

Descriptive praises

It helps our learners know exactly what they have done well and what they can improve. We value their effort, progress, details, and process and directly motivate their positive behaviors. They’ll be motivated to do/explore more, try different techniques to solve any challenges, turn weaknesses into strengths.

Evaluative praises

On the other hand, evaluative praises tell them nothing but our judgments about their work. It’s a summary of how they perform but that doesn’t convey guidance that learners can apply to help themselves improve. They’ll become dependent on all the ‘great job’, ‘well done’, ‘nice work’ in determining their self-worth. Imagine this, Debbie learned & played ‘Twinkle Twinkle Little Star’ for her mother. Her response was ‘I love it! Great song.’. She learned & played many other songs to impress the mother. Today she learned another song but the mother was busy on her phone while Debbie was playing the piano. Her response this time, when Debbie finished playing the song was ‘not bad. cute song.’ with less enthusiasm. She thought her mother got bored of her piano songs, so she’s not as motivated to learn new pieces anymore.

It’s just a little extra work & effort but will help the kids through their life, why not? 🙂

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