Monday, February 12, 2007

How Not to Talk to Your Kids - Part 1

From Po:

Today, Ashley and I unveil our cover story for New York Magazine, "Praise is Dangerous: How Not to Talk to Your Kids."

In the piece, we tackle how parents praise their children – specifically, the idea that, according to a Columbia University survey, 85 percent of parents believe it's important to praise your children's intelligence.

In a very quick overview of what we've discovered, we've found that research by professor Carol S. Dweck and others directly challenges that belief that praising for intelligence is beneficial to children's development. (Actually, it turns out there are even scholars who are making a persuasive case that any praise at all can be damaging, regardless the context.)

Instead, Dweck's research shows that praise for intelligence can be harmful. Kids praised for intelligence can do well, but only while they succeed.

Once they fail, however, it's a whole other story. Because children praised for intelligence attribute their earlier success to their innate abilities. Thus they don't know how to respond to their new failure. Rather than seeing failure as a temporary event, they believe that their failure is proof that they didn't actually have the innate abilities they had been previously lauded for.

Note that there's two separate ideas twined together right there. One is the aspect of praise itself, and how it's used (often overused). The other idea is how praising intelligence (telling a kid "You're so smart") teaches the idea that intelligence is an innate ability - i.e., a fixed ability. You're either smart or you aren't.

Over the next few posts, we'll have much more to say on the topic of praise including: how praise is so often mis-used (it's not really praise at all); how praise affects children's motivation; and do's and don'ts on praising your own children.

Carol Dweck is a charming scholar. Though she recently joined the faculty at Stanford, most of her life has been spent in New York; she was raised in Brooklyn, went to college at Barnard, and taught at Columbia for decades. This reluctant new Californian just got her first driver’s license – at age sixty. Other Stanford faculty have joked that she’ll soon be sporting bright colors in her couture, but so far Dweck sticks to New York black – black suede boots, black skirt, trim black jacket. All of which matches her hair and her big black eyebrows – one of which is raised up, perpetually, as if in disbelief. Tiny as a bird, she uses her hands in elaborate gestures, almost like she’s holding her idea in front of her, physically rotating it in three-dimensional space. Her speech pattern, though, is not at the impatient pace of most New Yorkers. She talks almost like she were reading a children’s lullaby, with gently punched-up moments of drama.

Read our piece and enjoy learning from her research.

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