The Power of Praising the Effort

nurpalah-dee-226216 (1)Not all praise is equal! Most of us have probably heard this phrase, but do we all know what it really means? Today’s blog will discuss the power of praising and its impact on child development. We will start our discussion by highlighting the 4 Steps to Success Daily Do, one of the most important strategies in the Growing Great Kids Curriculum. It is designed to provide parents the framework for helping their baby learn new things while experiencing fun and encouragement for their efforts. As with all our blog posts, we will review recent research and literature to support our discussion. Our conclusion will include curriculum recommendations to enhance parents’ skills in using praise to recognize the efforts and accomplishments of their children.

The 4 Steps to Success is a set of essential parenting skills designed to promote children’s self-esteem and motivation for learning. This strategy consists of four steps that, when incorporated into daily routines and family activities throughout every day, results in children feeling valued and competent. The idea is to leave them with the feeling that the effort they put into something is as important as the accomplishment itself. The fourth step in the 4 Steps to Success strategy is about “Praising the Child’s Effort and Pointing Out What She Has Learned.” When parents lay the foundation for children feeling good about learning, they are also helping their child build positive self-esteem and confidence.

The 4 Steps to Success Daily Do offers multiple benefits for the child, the parents, and the community. Just to list a few:

  • Children are more able to concentrate on learning
  • Children and parents feel proud of their efforts and accomplishments
  • Both parents and children also learn to be “patient”, because they understand that learning takes practice and effort
  • Children and parents are encouraged to be persistent in figuring out solutions
  • Within their community there is a value for putting effort into learning and accomplishing common goals

Now let’s review some research behind the 4 Steps to Success Daily Do. Stanford University Professor Carol S. Dweck has done significant research on the topic of praise. According to Mueller and Dweck (1998), in comparing behaviors of children praised for intelligence (i.e. “You’re smart”) with those children praised for effort (i.e. “You worked hard!”), they found that children who experience praise for their effort display persistence, enjoyment, and continued performance in the face of challenges. This is because they learn to attribute their performance to the effort, rather than to a stable ability, which is how praise for intelligence is often perceived. In other words, children who have been praised for their effort will interpret subsequent poor performance as indicating a temporary lapse in effort rather than as a deficit in intelligence (Mueller & Dweck, 1998).

In 2013, Elizabeth A. Gunderson and a group of colleagues conducted a study revealing similar findings to those concluded by Dr. Dweck regarding the impact of praising the effort. This study showed that praising children’s efforts encourages motivation to engage in challenging tasks and the ability to generate strategies for improvement. They concluded that children who received praise for their efforts tend to value learning over performance, view efforts as positive, and interpret a challenging situation as an opportunity to learn rather than an obstacle (Gunderson, et.al., 2013).  This literature helps us understand that praising the effort plays a key role in positive parenting by creating possibilities for learning and motivation for achievement.

The Growing Great Kids Curriculum includes hundreds of child development activities that are connected to the 4 Steps to Success Daily Do. Each activity is crafted to support parents and children in building self-esteem and motivation for learning, while focusing attention on lots of opportunities to praise effort.  At Great Kids, Inc. we believe that every parent has the power to set their child up to feel confident, to be a good learner, and to feel successful in school.

Let’s not forget that “praising the effort” is not just about children; it applies to all of us in any role. As a home visitor, we encourage you to take every opportunity to point out parents’ efforts for growing their parenting style and practicing new parenting skills and/or life skills. Support them by praising their efforts and acknowledging the challenges they faced. This will foster motivation for continued learning and growth of new skills in the future.

We will conclude with a note that a man wrote to Dr. Dweck after he read some of her work (Dweck, 2007):

Dear Dr. Dweck,

                It was painful to read your chapter…as I recognized myself therein.

               As a child, I was a member of The Gifted Child Society and continually praised for my                            intelligence.  Now, after a lifetime of not living up to my potential (I’m 49), I’m learning to                     apply myself to a task. And also, to see failure not as a sign of stupidity but as lack of                             experience and skills. Your chapter helped me see myself in a new light.

                                                                                Seth Abrams

Works Cited:

Mueller, C. M., & Dweck, C. S. (1998). Praise for intelligence can undermine children's motivation and performance. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology: Attitudes and Social Cognition, 75(1), 33-52. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/0022-3514.75.1.33

Gunderson, E A., Gripshover, S.J., Dweck, C.S., Goldin-Meadow, S., Levine, S. (2013). Parent Praise to 1- to 3- Year-Olds Predicts Children’s Motivational Frameworks 5 Years Later. Child Development, Society for Research in Child Development, Inc. September/October 2013, Volume 84, Number 5, Pages 1526–1541. DOI: 10.1111/cdev.12064 http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/cdev.12064/pdf

Dweck, C. S. (2007). Mindset. The New Psychology of Success. How We Can Learn to Fulfill Our Potential. Ballantine Books, a division of Random House, Inc. New York.