Wednesday, October 10, 2007

While We're At It: Praise that Doesn't Help

Since that sleep article of Po Bronson's was so good I checked out some more of his pieces. This previous one from New York Magazine on "How Not to Talk to Kids" is very solid as well. I have a lot more thoughts on what sort ways of talking to kids are helpful and which are counter productive that will show up on here eventually. But for now Bronson's piece nicely takes us through how our attempts to praise often end up getting in the way of our kids succeeding. For those of you who don't have time to read this now, I'll just say that it focuses on being specific and on praising effort rather than "being smart". There are measurable differences in the way kids respond to these ways of interacting with them. A focus on effort rather than on "innate intelligence" equips kids to keep at it when things get difficult. Kids who hear a focus on how "smart" they are rather on how hard they worked tend to give up when faced with a task that is challenging. This is even true of very intelligent kids. They are more apt to conclude that if they don't succeed right off the bat, it is evidence that they aren't all that smart, and it becomes too risky for them to persevere.

I recall an article from years ago that highlighted this difference between American and Japanese students. American students who ran into challenges were more likely to conclude they weren't smart enough, whereas Japanese students tended much more often to come to the conclusion that they needed to roll up their sleeves and work harder. And their tendency to move toward harder work translated into more academic success.

Photo by Phillip Toledano is from the New York Magazine article.

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