Tuesday, February 20, 2007

How Not To Talk To Your Kids - Part 6 (tips on effective praise, con't)

From Ash:

More tips on effective praising.

5. Be Specific

I know we touched on this briefly before, but I thought I'd go into well, specifics, to show you more of what that means.

For example, if you saw that your daughter did an exceptionally good job of cleaning her room, don't walk into the family room to just say, "You're a great kid." She has no idea that that's in reference thinking to her newly-pristine room. So tell her exactly what she did that deserved your praise. Don't make her guess. Because she can always guess wrong. (She could easily think your "great kid" praise applies to something she's doing right then – like watching TV instead of doing her homework.)

The more specific your praise, the better. When a child hands you a story he's written, rather than the global praise, innate ability compliment, "You're a good writer," say something more to the effect of, "I like the way you introduced his character in your story – it's very clear that he's who the story's about."

Hearing these sorts of remarks, children learn to focus on how actions are under their control, rather than attributing achievements to an innate ability they do or don’t have. And they understand exactly what they did right. Now, you haven't just given them an ego-boost, you've given them constructive feedback that they can remember to apply in the future.

Specific comments also show the child that your opinion is sincere – very important – and that you're really seriously considering her work.

6. Praise the Process

In Carol Dweck's parlance, what is important is to use "process praise," rather than "person praise." That means tell a kid exactly what he did to deserve your praise. It is the effort he made, but you can also praise the strategies he chose, his concentration-level, the decisions he made. "It was a good idea to finish reading the chapter before playing video games, instead of stopping in the middle." "I noticed you paid attention to the coach through the whole game."

Note that it's very important to know that Dweck's research focused on complimenting of intelligence versus effort; that's because those were the two clearest things they could test for – dramatically opposing concepts, one relating to innate ability while the other related to autonomous control.

But Dr. Dweck and others do not think that effort is the only thing a child should be praised for.

Conversely, if effort is all that's ever praised, a child who worked very hard studying for a test may respond just as poorly to a bad grade as one who's praised for intelligence: the effort-praised child may say that he worked as hard as he could, and still he didn't succeed, so what's the point of continuing?

That's why it's vital to also praise those strategies, decisions, and other aspects of his work.

7. Don't Connect Praise with Promises of Future Success

At the same time, and sort of insurance against the above "I tried my hardest" scenario, make sure that you don't connect praise with promises of future success. As NYU's Dr. Judith Brook explained, if a child studied really hard before a test, compliment him on the studying, but don't add "...and I'm sure you'll do well."

Dr. Brook says she sees the praise-made promise turn sour in her med students who build each other up before a test, and are then stunned when they didn't get the "A" they thought was in the bag. She even sees this with physicians and patients: doctors promising cancer patients full-recovery when it's just too uncertain.

Remember – praise is for achievements that have actually been accomplished, not those to come, which brings us to –

8. Don't Confuse Praise with Encouragement

This is one I myself may have been the most guilty of: I mix my praise with encouragement. I tutor kids who are years behind in their reading and math levels, and I'm so afraid they'll give up. I know they never hear anything positive at home or school, so I've been a cheerleader to make up for that.

So when a kid refused to do a homework assignment or got stuck because it was too hard, I (used to) say, "You're smart; I know you can do this." Obviously, the "you're smart" was a problem, and as I mentioned in an earlier post, the combined praise-encouragement gives a child praise for past performance, but conditions that praise upon future, continued performance.

But the other problem with my reply is that this wasn't the time for praise at all. This was time just for encouragement. Rather than B.S.ing the kid with an empty attempt at boosting his self-esteem, the better thing to have said is, "Honey, I know it seems hard, but we'll work on it together. I think if you work hard, you can get this," or "Just do what you can, and if you're stuck, we'll figure out where you got lost," or even just "You can do it."

No praise. Just letting him see that I recognize his concerns, with some encouragement so that he doesn't give up. Again, sincerity is crucial – and since I've said that I understand and value his concerns (I didn't dismiss them with a pish-posh "You're too smart to be struggling,"), he may even remember that when he has a real problem he wants to talk about.

Still more to come . . . .

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Blogger John Wisse said...

I think you have broached a very complex and profound subject. As there are a number of prevailing schools of thought on the subject of praise, there exists a much greater diversity of competing thought on parenting. In effect, you have touched on a significant component of parenting, but interestingly, the business world also has identified various styles of management and conviently classified those into two major categories -- parent and child. As we see the dynamics involved in parenting, teaching, mentoring and the like, the essence of praise and being praiseworthy is at the root of our being within the world community regardless our age. While I congratulate you on your process, I am confident that we lack a broad treatise on the subject of parenting and mentoring skills. Say what you will about praise, but the bottom line is --- where and how do we acquire the most effective skills to show others that we care?

3:28 PM  
Blogger Jane said...

This is possibly the most important piece of information I have come across. I married not one but TWO adults who were brought up in this system of undeserved praise. Both are very damaged individuals as a result. Both have very high IQs and very little ability to do anything with that intelligence. My ex-husband finally went to college at 48 and graduated with honors. While we were married he refused to go saying that he saw what I went through when I went and it was "too much work."

My current husband with his IQ of 140 is unable to work as he can't function when asked to do an unfamiliar task or one he considers beneath him. He is under psychiatric care for being bipolar, but after reading your article we both feel that the sense of entitlement he learned at school and at home might be his primary psychological problem. It may be that he is not mentally ill at all, but is the product of this system of undeserved praise and learned expectations that have left him unable to deal with the realities of a world that expects him to pull his own weight and not expect praise for doing so.

He intends to present this theory to his psychiatrist and see if his diagnosis and treatment could be modified. Thank you SO much for this incredibly information. I really hope that you continue with it and follow adults as I can't be the only one whose life has nearly been destroyed by this.

10:41 AM  

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