High Fives and Beyond

I recently ran across an interesting study concerning praising infants and toddlers. This study conducted by Professor Carol S. Dweck from Stanford University,” showed that the kinds of praise parents give their babies and toddlers influence the child’s motivation later on. It also plays a role in children’s beliefs about themselves and their desire to take on challenges five years later”. She suggests that parents and caregivers focus on the effort and action that their infants and toddlers are doing as opposed to praising the child him or herself. For example it is more effective to tell a child a child “you worked so hard on that” as opposed to “you are so good at that.”

The study analyzed video footage on mothers interacting with their one to three year olds. The researchers tallied the kind of praise the mothers gave their children as well as the amount of praise the children received. The study paid particular attention to the proportion of praise that was directed to the child’s effort; for example “good kick” as opposed to “you are so good at soccer.”

Five years later when these children were seven and eight year olds they were interviewed by the researchers who asked questions along the lines of “How would like to do math problems that are very easy so you can get a lot right”? The results showed that toddlers who heard praise for their efforts were more likely to prefer challenges than those “who heard praise directed at them personally.”

The study suggested that praises such as “you are so smart” or “you are so amazing” do not work. When children do not get things perfect or correct they begin to believe that they are not so smart or amazing.

It is interesting that researchers found that parents praised boys more that they did girls.

Overall the research s revealed that the amount of praise did not have an effect. “It was more about the percentage of process praise compared to person praise”. Dweck encourages parents and caregivers to focus on the process the child engages in specific things they are doing (“You are working so hard at painting that picture” as opposed to “you are such a good artist”).

It is important to give those high fives, but give them for the efforts children put forth rather forcing them to live up to a label. Praising specific actions will better support children’s abilities to believe that their abilities and behavior can change and develop.