Praise versus encouragement: Helping your child have a growth mindset

It takes more than specific praise and encouragement to help your child have a growth mindset.

We have heard a lot of talk about using encouragement or specific praise rather than less-effective statements such as “good job” with our children. We all want our children to do their best and be successful, but as the YouTube video “A Study on Praise and Mindsets” by Carol Dweck shows, when we praise children for their intelligence rather than their effort, we may be encouraging an unsuccessful way of thinking.

Lately, there has been some further clarification on using specific praise to encourage children to be persistent and seek higher goals. In particular, aiming for a “growth mindset” incorporates specific praise and encouragement along with some additional strategies.

Dweck, one of the popular researchers to investigate praise, has recently been building on her approach to how we motivate children to be successful. She refers to helping children develop a growth mindset. It is a way of thinking that is based on curiosity, problem-solving and effort.

When we praise children for their intelligence in getting the right answer or a solution to a problem, we actually encourage them to have a “fixed mind set.” This is what Dweck calls the notion that the child believes they are either smart or dumb and nothing can change that. With a growth mindset, the child believes they can discover the solution to a problem by working on it and being persistent.

She points out that while it is a good idea to encourage a child’s effort, it is not enough to “just praise the effort.” We need to do more to give children other strategies to solve problems beyond trying hard.

Two other strategies Dweck suggests we employ are:

  • Teaching children to try different ways to solve a problem if the first way they tried does not work. A child can become discouraged by repeating the same unsuccessful method over and over and still not coming up with a solution that works. Attacking the problem from different angles will promote success.
  • Teaching children to look for help from their peers for ideas to solve a problem after they have tried multiple strategies. After trying all of your own ideas about how to accomplish a task, you can ask others if they have thought of a different way. Also, some problems just require a group solution.

Let’s take the example of a child trying to move a bucket of water around the backyard to water plants. The filled bucket is too heavy for the child to lift by its handle. Your first response could be to ask the child what they have tried so far. You could ask, “What other ways might work?” and let them try new way such as pushing the bucket or dragging it.

If those methods don’t work, you could suggest asking a friend to help move the bucket. The friend agrees to help and they carry the bucket together. You can praise the child for effort as well as thinking creatively and cooperatively. Your praise lets the child know their problem-solving skills as well as their effort is what you value.

All children can brainstorm and think of alternative ways to solve problems if they are given the opportunity to practice. Dweck warns us again the “false growth mindset” of labeling your child as a person with a fixed mind set. Another pitfall to avoid is thinking that having a growth mindset is a simple achievement. It is not as simple as thinking positive. It’s a process. In fact, most of us have a mixture of fixed and growth mindsets.

Emphasizing the importance of honest effort, curiosity and the belief there are many ways to reach a goal will all help your child develop a healthy growth mindset and lead toward more successes in school and life.

Michigan State University Extension suggests the following articles for more information:

Photo by Helpful Holidays, Holiday Cottages in the West Country Blog

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