When I first read Faber and Mazlish’s book, How to Talk So Kids Will Listen, I found the chapter on praise to be eye-opening. The authors cautioned parents to stop using evaluative praise and to use descriptive praise instead.
Now I am reading another book on developing a growth mindset in our kids. Author Carol Dweck explains the differences between a fixed mindset and a growth mindset. In a fixed mindset, kids and even adults believe that it doesn’t matter how hard you work, how much effort you expend, intelligence and talents are static traits. You do not have control over whether or not you succeed. A growth mindset is the belief that you can effect change, you can learn almost anything with dedication, effort and persistence. A growth mindset sows the seeds for true success and a love of learning.
Dweck believes that a growth mindset can be taught to all children. One of the most important ways to help your child develop a growth mindset is to avoid evaluative praise and praise descriptively instead. Praise should focus on effort and persistence and not the end result.
We all want to encourage our kids and help them develop a growth mindset, instead of a fixed one. Kids who have a fixed mindset will feel discouraged and have a harder time behaving appropriately at home, in school and with their peers. Kids with a growth mindset feel encouraged and will likely have more confidence and self-esteem. They will be better able to handle life’s challenges and have a more positive outlook on life.
Most parents have heard by now that that encouraging kids by saying, “Good job” or “You are wonderful” does not build confidence. This is evaluative praise. It backfires and actually does the opposite. It trains kids to rely on others approval instead of listening to their gut feelings. They become more tentative about making their own decisions. Kids who are praised with huge doses of “good job” will hesitate to share their original ideas and thoughts. They will try to only tell others what they want to hear.
Do not despair. Faber, Mazlish and Dweck show us how to use descriptive praise that can truly encourage kids and build them up, teaching them a growth mindset. Parents need to describe what their child has done and the effort that they expended in doing it.
Here are some examples of the right way to encourage and praise kids:
Instead of: “You are such a nice boy!”
Try this: “You found a toy that Jacob likes. First you tried the bird, but he did not want that. Then you tried the elephant. You worked hard to figure out what he wanted.”
Instead of: “You are an amazing musician!”
Try this: “You played that whole piece of music. You have been working on it in parts and today you were able to play the whole thing. You should be proud of all that hard work.”
Praising in this way takes more thought and a lot more time. However it is a more appropriate way of helping children develop a growth mindset and a strong self-image. When we praise children in this manner, we give them pictures of their abilities and their strengths. When we describe their actions they know specifically what they have done and achieved. When we acknowledge the effort they put into their actions they learn to value hard work. They learn that building relationships, doing well at school and learning to play a musical instrument is a result of applying themselves.
Encouraging kids with thoughtful praise will give kids tools that they need to feel good about themselves even when we, the parents, are not around.
The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.