How Not to Talk to Your Kids

The Inverse Power of Praise

I praised Luke, but I attempted to praise his “process.” This was easier said than done. What are the processes that go on in a 5-year-old’s mind? In my impression, 80 percent of his brain processes lengthy scenarios for his action figures.

But every night he has math homework and is supposed to read a phonics book aloud. Each takes about five minutes if he concentrates, but he’s easily distracted. So I praised him for concentrating without asking to take a break. If he listened to instructions carefully, I praised him for that. After soccer games, I praised him for looking to pass, rather than just saying, “You played great.” And if he worked hard to get to the ball, I praised the effort he applied.

Just as the research promised, this focused praise helped him see strategies he could apply the next day. It was remarkable how noticeably effective this new form of praise was.

This article discusses the difference between unfocused praise for innate talents versus focused praise for specific efforts. I love the way it dovetails with Brave Writer philosophy which emphasizes offering support and affirmation for each writing effort a child makes, specifically praising successes in writing rather than general praise about a child’s abilities. Thought you’d enjoy it.

3 Responses to “How Not to Talk to Your Kids”

  1. Victoria Strickland says:

    Vindicated again! Intuition (plain “old-fashioned” wisdom from God) has been telling me for years that self-esteem is a by-product of hard work and not a basic element of the child’s psyche. Thank you for sharing this wonderful article! Let’s hear it for all the hard working children!

  2. Galen Roll says:

    I have found that if I acknowledge, even ‘narrate”, rather than praise, my words respect my kids’ ownership over their work more fully….ie, “you were so frustrated, then you decided to try again, and I noticed you kept trying until it worked!” or “you added even more details to that character in your story, and now I see him more clearly!”
    I am trying to catch when I am motivating “to please me” and I want instead to offer an experience, to ask for help, or communicate my belief or my need…
    A life’s work!!!!

  3. Poiema says:

    Thanks for directing me to a very interesting and informative article. I think many teachers have stumbled onto the fact that praising children judiciously and only for honest effort indeed offers the best kind of encouragement. It is nice to have that confirmed! I did provide a link to Bravewriter on my own summary of the article.