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Effort is often overlooked in favor of performance. The problem is that praising children for their intelligence often focuses on outcomes instead of processes or behaviors. Ultimately, this can discourage children from trying new things because they fear failure, effectively self-handicapping themselves. All of this can lead to negative self-esteem and impaired performance over time. Instead, praising effort helps children focus on the work process and the development of new skills, leading to higher performance.
When we praise children for their efforts, we encourage them to keep trying and learning, but we’re also helping them understand the importance of effort over natural ability. Praise can motivate kids to try new things they might feel too afraid or unconfident to attempt. This can be especially important for those who experience a learning difference or other developmental delay that may cause them to doubt their own abilities.
Praising a child’s effort instead of their intelligence is an effective way to encourage them. When we praise a child for the effort they put into something, it lets them know that we’re proud of their hard work and that we see them as capable and valuable people who deserve recognition.
When you praise your child for an accomplishment, you must use specific language: instead of saying “good job” or “you did such a good job,” focus on what exactly he did well, so she knows exactly what behavior needs work next time around.
Praising effort is a far more effective and authentic tool for increasing performance than praising intelligence or talent. This is because praising effort triggers a cascading series of positive emotions in the child—specifically, they feel pride, gratitude, and joy. These powerful motivators promote future success by encouraging children to try harder because they know you’re watching their efforts.
On the other hand, it turns out that praising kids’ intelligence or talent can have negative effects on their motivation over time. Some studies have shown that children who receive praise based on their smarts rather than their hard work tend to lose enthusiasm for doing well after only two weeks; after three months, those same kids will persist at tasks less often than those praised for effortful behavior.
These studies point to self-handicapping, a defensive strategy in which people create obstacles for themselves to provide an excuse for future failure. When children are praised for their performance alone, they’re more likely to resort to self-handicapping strategies and behaviors, such as reporting higher levels of test anxiety and using less time for completing a task. Not only does this worsens performance after failure, but it also sets a precedent for a negative association with new tasks.
Young children are often praised too much, especially in the US. Parental praise and over-praising can damage a child’s self-esteem. Over-praising children can cause them to believe that they are better than others.
Praising effort is a more balanced approach to parenting because it encourages children to accept responsibility for their own actions and learn from their mistakes without feeling like they’re not good enough or don’t belong. This kind of praise encourages children to accept the consequences of their decisions and learn from them to become better people.
It can be tempting to focus on praise for intelligence, but if you want your child to become a success later in life, it’s better to praise their effort instead. Praising effort rather than intelligence will produce better long-term results for your child’s education and well-being.
At The Learning Lab, our teachers use personalized, comprehensive, and caring approaches to education that help children succeed in their environment. If you’re unsure how to introduce effort-based praising in your education support, consider speaking with one of our teachers for directions.