The Power of Praise and How it can affect Children’s Mindset

Written By: Ranjani Panda, Vision Therapist

According to Carol Dweck, (Professor of Psychology at Stanford University who does research in personality, development, and motivation), there are two types of mindsets: a fixed mindset and a growth mindset. People with a fixed mindset tend to believe that the characteristics they possess are fixed traits and that intelligence is static. They are also more inclined to think that possessing talent is what amounts to success. People with a growth mindset believe that traits can be developed and that success is not the outcome of talent alone, but the accomplishments made to achieve those talents. So how can the way we praise children affect their mindset? It is the simple difference between person praise and process praise.

When you are giving a form of person praise, you are praising the child’s traits – “Wow! You are such a fast reader!” “Man, you are super smart!” “You are really good at this!” and this leads to a fixed mindset. You are telling that child that you admire them for a trait they possess (being smart, or being a fast reader). This poses an issue when they are faced with challenges and/or new things because they have a fear of losing their “reputation” of being a fast reader for example. “What if I can’t be a fast reader when I read a harder story? She is only impressed by my reading speed!” and so that child will now be more likely to avoid a challenge.

When you are giving a form of process praise, you are praising the child’s efforts and what it took to get there – “I noticed how you sounded out all the words in that story.” “I love the way you showed a lot of concentration on this activity.” and this leads to a growth mindset. Now, when faced with a challenge, they know that can apply this same process to something even harder and this motivates them to strive for challenges and ultimately grow in their talents.

No matter in which setting an adult and child interact, praise is always an important part of the interaction in order to encourage the child to peruse new goals and overcome challenges. As adults, we never mean to negatively affect a child when we praise them but sometimes it can happen so subtly that it is not noticeable until we see bad habits forming in children such as avoiding challenges or seeking validation through person praise. This can especially happen with those kids that have low self-esteem because they often cling to every ounce of praise that they ever receive.

Although oftentimes it is easier and perhaps more automatic to give person praise, I have truly seen a difference in my patient’s motivation when I actively try to use process praise.

I challenge you all to use more process praise with the children in your life and watch the difference in their motivation!

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