Why you should not praise intelligence!

Praise is one of the most important tools a parent can use to help motivate and guide their children. But in many cases, the wrong praise can also discourage and derail their learning. We usually think that if we praise a child for his abilities, intelligence, or talents we are raising their confidence. The reality of the situation is, we are focusing on attributes that a child can’t change and as a result, our children are afraid to fail and often run away from challenges. We are contributing towards a fixed, negative mindset. Children who focus on the end result believe their intelligence and talents are innate and that their skills are fixed and cannot really change.

In order to build a growth mindset, we need to focus on the process itself, and the effort children put into anything. When we praise effort, children are likely to develop effort as a lifelong habit, leading to persistence even when faced with hard challenges in the future.

It’s not as easy as it seems, and we need to understand the negative effects of praise and that empty praise helps nobody. When it comes to building a growth mindset in your children, the first rule is to praise effort and not results. Carol Dweck emphasises how praise should be towards effort that leads to an outcome. In other words, Effective effort. In many instances I see people praise children while forgetting about the effective/outcome part.

We tend to hear sentences like “well you tried your best”, “great effort” etc. even though the child didn’t put the proper strategy and effort into the task. By doing so, we are actually encouraging a fixed mindset. The child understands that ‘I did my best, and there is no need for me to try any further!’.

Since not all effort actually results in growth or improvement in a child, not all effort should be praised.

When a child is putting ineffective effort into something, that child must be guided towards putting the kind of effort that will allow for growth, progress and improvement.

It’s very important to make it clear for children that not all effort is equal, and that only effort that leads to learning new things is important, and that’s what you should praise.

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