Carol Dweck is Professor of Psychology at Stanford University and is known for her work on the mindset psychological trait. I have read her book ‘Mindset. How You Can Fulfil Your Potential’ and across VAS, children have been learning about growth and fixed mindsets. This is not new. Recently, I came across this from her:
So what should we say when children complete a task – say, maths problems, quickly and perfectly?
Should we deny them the praise they have earned?
When this happens, I say, “Whoops. I guess that was too easy. I apologise for wasting your time. Let’s do something you can really learn from!”
In her book she says that it is almost impossible for parents to resist praising children for their intelligence or achievement. We want our children to know that we appreciate their successes, however, according to Dweck, parents think they can hand children permanent confidence – like a gift – by praising their brains and talent. She says that this doesn’t work and has the opposite effect. It makes children doubt themselves as soon as anything is hard or if anything goes wrong. Dweck says that if parents want to give their children a gift, the best thing they can do is teach their children to love challenges, be intrigued by mistakes, enjoy effort and keep on learning.
This is such great advice. But, it’s a bit like knowing that we shouldn’t be eating too much sugar. We know it’s bad for us, we know we shouldn’t eat that chocolate biscuit for afternoon tea, but we go ahead and eat it anyway. Afterwards we feel bad because we succumbed to a momentary weakness and let ourselves down.
Well, Carol Dweck’s advice is a bit like that. We know we should praise for effort, not achievement. We know we should praise them for practising hard, for trying to overcome the issues, for persisting when they were struggling, for not giving up. Sometimes though, our immediate response is to praise them for their achievement. We should not beat ourselves up!
As an adult, I do like to be told occasionally that I have done a great job with a specific task. I like that sort of praise, it makes me feel good, but if that was the only sort of praise or feedback I ever got, I don’t think I would be inclined to stretch myself to do even better next time. I think that giving praise occasionally for achievement or talent is not the end of the world as long as most of the praise we give shows that we admire and appreciate their efforts and choices.
Just to help you, here are some examples of the praise she suggests:
- I liked the way you tried all kinds of strategies on that maths problem until you finally got it. You thought of lots of different ways and you found the one that works!
- You put so much thought into your inquiry. It really makes me understand Colin McCahon better now
- You really tried hard in your writing this year. All that hard work and practise has paid off, look at how much your writing has improved!
- I liked the effort you put in, but let’s work together some more and figure out what you don’t understand
- It might take a little while to master this, but if you keep on trying as hard as you have so far, it won’t take long before you get it
Finally, don’t forget the power of that little word ‘yet’ as in, ‘you haven’t mastered that yet, but you are trying so hard to figure it out, it won’t be long until you get it’.