You should praise your children
Every parent will tell you that you should applaud your children. Praising them for a job well done and telling them how clever they are builds confidence and self esteem.
Or does it? In 1990’s Claudia Mueller and Carol Dweck of Columbia University decided to find out.
The study worked with ten to twelve year-old children at three schools. The researchers asked the children to complete three sets of tests.
At the end of the first test the researchers split the children into two groups at random and both groups were praised:
- Half the children were praised for their performance. “You must be smart at these problems”.
- Half were praised for their effort. “You must have worked hard at these problems”.
The children were then asked to chose which type of test they would like to do next. The choice was:
- A simple test — problems that are pretty easy so you will do well
- A harder test — problems that you will learn a lot from even though you won’t look so smart
But before they got to do their chosen test the children were all given a second, harder test. One usually taken by children two years older. At the end of this second test the researchers told all the children that they had performed “a lot worse”. They had only solved half of the questions that they answered.
After this negative feedback, the children rated how much they enjoyed the problems and how much they wanted to carry on.
Finally they worked through their chosen – third — set of questions.
When offered a choice of tests to take, 67% of the children who were told they were clever opted to take the easy test. A test that showed how well they could perform. Conversely, 92% of the children who were told they must be hard-working chose the hard test. The one where they would learn more.
When asked what they thought of the final test, the “hard-working” children said that they enjoyed it. The “clever” children said that they didn’t.
In the last test — after they had received negative feedback — the “hard-working” children were more persistent. They answered an average of six and a quarter of the ten questions compared to the “clever” children’s four and a half.
There is more
The researchers carried out repeat experiments with other variables thrown into the mix.
- “Clever” children were three times more likely to lie about their scores than the “hard-working” children.
- “Clever” children were three times more interested in the results of their peers than “hard-working” children.
- “Hard-working” children were three times more interested in learning new problem solving strategies than “clever” children.
If you reward your children for working hard they understand how to improve. They realise that performance isn’t a fixed outcome and that they can improve their scores by persistence and trying new approaches.
If you tell your children that they are smart they think that performance is down to innate ability so can’t be improved on. So, to keep their scores high they will pick easy problems and lie about their performance.
It is more powerful to take an interest in a child’s behaviour and tell them what they did well than just complement them on the outcome. If a child knows what they did well they can improve on it and do it again.
Complements based on the outcome don’t give the child anything to build upon.
Are children and adults so different?
When you are going through your annual round of appraisal writing where does all the effort go?
- Do you focus on outcomes, positioning your staff and yourself as life’s winners, the “smart” kids?
- Does all your effort go into the inputs, how hard your staff tried, what they did well and what they can learn from, the “hard-working” kids?
Learning from ten year-olds
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Read the original research paper
Image by Will Kay
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