"Good, job!" That's really what you'll hear many parents say to their kids when shown an artwork, a certificate, an award for some kind of accomplishment. We praise automatically (and, let's face it, absent-mindedly) even at the tiniest task. No biggie, right?
However, a groundbreaking research by Carol Dweck, Ph.D., showed that we may not be doing our kids any favor by the way we praise them. Instead, we're putting them in a "fixed mindset" where they end up being bored in school or lose any interest in trying when a work gets harder.
Dweck explains that kids in a fixed mindset believe that when you are born with intelligence you don't need to make much of an effort to succeed in school. Unfortunately, they also think that their goal in school is to "look smart at all times and at all cost." They hate to look dumb so they avoid tasks that might show a deficiency. "They believe that if you need effort, it's a sign that you don't have ability," Dweck says, adding, "it's one of the worst beliefs anyone can have. I believe it's why so many promising students don't fulfill their potential."
The mindset you want for your kids is called the "growth mindset," which is rooted in the belief that smarts are acquired and developed through effort, dedication, learning, and mentorship from others. Kids who have a growth mindset believe that in order to achieve something, one has to put in a lot of hard work. A kid with a growth mindset seeks to "learn at all time and at all costs," says Dweck. A growth mindset believes effort activates their ability, and that failure is a natural part of learning. They do not hide or run from their mistakes, unlike those in a fixed mindset.
"They don't think everyone's the same. They understand that Einstein was not the guy he became before he put in years and years of dedicated labor," Dweck explains about kids in a growth mindset.
Dweck's study shows that praise is a big factor when it comes to these two mindsets. You put your child in a fixed mindset when you praise or value their intelligence, which actually "turns them off" to learning. They don't seek the challenging tasks; they avoid it, in fact, in favor of a task they know they are already good at. In the long run, this mindset erodes kids' confidence especially when they are faced with a difficult problem, and their performance in school as he advances in grade can suffer.
Kids get into a growth mindset if we praise their efforts -- we value how hard they worked to get a good score. As they grow up, these kids won't be scared of challenging tasks. They seek it because they know they can accomplish anything with hard work. Their performance improves and their confidence grows each time they get a good mark.
By the way, Dweck's research found that babies as young as 1 to 3 years old already show signs of what their "mindset and desire for challenge five years later." That means we probably need to rethink about saying "ang galing galing!" when our baby learns how to crawl.
So how do we praise our kids that will instill a growth mindset? Consider these alternative "praise" statements:
1. Praise the process or strategy instead of the outcome. Instead of: “Wow, that's a really good score.” Say, “You must have studied well and tried hard to get the correct answers.”
2. Praise the effort not the person. Instead: "You are such an art genius." Say, "You really worked hard to color your tree within the lines."
3. Praise specific actions not overall behavior. Instead of: "You’ve behaved really well when our dinner guests were here." Say, "I liked that you politely excused yourself when you were done eating dinner."
4. Praise descriptively and do not refrain from evaluating. Instead of: "Wow, this is so beautiful." Say, "Wow the chicken in your drawing looks so lifelike!" or ask him how he did it.
5. Make a positive observation and try not to criticize. Instead of: “Good job!” or ”That’s wrong!” Say, “You laced your shoes by yourself! You did it!”
Other key things to remember are to be honest and don't over do it or it would lose its weight. The key is to purposely instill in your kids that they are capable of learning, rather than telling them they're a genius. They should grasp early on that to achieve their goal is to work hard for it -- and when they do achieve a life goal, there are several more to learn in life. That’s why kids with a growth mindset grow up to be more successful. They believe that the possibilities are endless, and they are not deterred by failure. And there’s no better way to start them on this path but early on in their life.
Listen to Dweck explain how the wrong kind of praise actually harms young people.