Every human being loves attention and praise. Many of us even crave it and feel less than confident when we are not reassured by affirming words.
As parents, we have incredible influence over our children through the words we use with them. Unknown to many parents, some types of praise are actually counterproductive to hard work and confidence.
Focus on Effort Rather Than Outcome
There is a danger to zeroing in too closely on scores. Sometimes children take our emphasis on grades to a new level, thinking that any behavior is justified as long as it achieves that good score. Cheating, copying, and lying are all possibilities.
Instead of focusing on the grade itself, praise the work that went into getting that grade. A grade should be a reflection of the work a child put into a project. (I know that grades sometimes are not a reflection of effort, but that’s a different post altogether.) So move past the numeric score and compliment the child’s choices.
Don’t Call Your Child Smart
I’m as guilty as the next parent of telling my daughter, “You are so smart!” It sounds nice to hear, but actually, it is not an empowering compliment. Smartness is perceived as a fixed quality. You are either smart or not; there is no way to increase your smartness.
But hard work is something that we do have control over. A student can choose to make flash cards and study or choose to watch television instead. A child can continue working on a difficult science experiment or give up in frustration.
Children who are perceived as intelligent are often afraid to risk challenging projects because they fear failure will reveal their hidden inadequacies.
How to Compliment with Power
Your praise will empower your child if you zero in on her character traits, those things that she deliberately exerted and those things that can be developed with effort:
- Study habits
- Hard work
- Careful attention
So instead of saying “You are so smart,” try these more specific words of affirmation:
- You worked so hard on that and didn’t give up when your first idea fell apart.
- You really used your brain to think critically and get to the heart of the issue.
- I am so impressed at how you met all your deadlines and gave this assignment your all.
- You handled that tough situation with such maturity. You made really wise choices.
Although parents all have ingrained patterns of praise, we must break out of our pat phrases and choose specific words that truly build up our children in ways that encourage them to achieve even more.