Po Bronson is a favorite writer of mine including his startup and technology work culture articles in Wired incl. Gen Equity which were combined into the book: The Nudist on the Late Shift and the one on people pondering about their lives: What Should I Do With My Life?
He wrote an article which is eye opening. Po Bronson’s The Power (and Peril) of Praising Your Kids in New York Magazine. It is a 5 page article, so I summarized it here.
-85 percent of American parents think it’s important to tell their kids that they’re smart. But a growing body of research strongly suggests, giving kids the label of “smart” might actually be causing nonperformance.
-Takeaway from the study on praise versus effort. “When we praise children for their intelligence, we tell them that this is the name of the game: Look smart, don’t risk making mistakes.” Emphasizing effort gives a child a variable that they can control,” she explains. “They come to see themselves as in control of their success. Emphasizing natural intelligence takes it out of the child’s control, and it provides no good recipe for responding to a failure.”
-Parents’ pride in their children’s achievements: It’s so strong that “when they praise their kids, it’s not that far from praising themselves.”
-To be effective, researchers have found, praise needs to be specific. Sincerity of praise is also crucial.
-Dweck’s research on overpraised kids strongly suggests that image maintenance becomes their primary concern—they are more competitive and more interested in tearing others down. A raft of very alarming studies illustrate this.
-When students transition into junior high, some who’d done well in elementary school inevitably struggle in the larger and more demanding environment. Those who equated their earlier success with their innate ability surmise they’ve been dumb all along. Their grades never recover because the likely key to their recovery—increasing effort—they view as just further proof of their failure.
-But it turns out that the ability to repeatedly respond to failure by exerting more effort—instead of simply giving up—is a trait well studied in psychology. People with this trait, persistence, rebound well and can sustain their motivation through long periods of delayed gratification. Persistence turns out to be more than a conscious act of will; it’s also an unconscious response (a chemical reaction you develop), governed by a circuit in the brain. It monitors the reward center of the brain, and like a switch, it intervenes when there’s a lack of immediate reward, telling the rest of the brain, “Don’t stop trying. There’s dopa [the brain’s chemical reward for success] on the horizon.-The brain has to learn that frustrating spells can be worked through. “A person who grows up getting too frequent rewards will not have persistence, because they’ll quit when the rewards disappear.”
What to do\Actions (Some from article, some mine at the end):
-Develop the mind-set that the way to bounce back from failure is to work harder.
-Social Praiser: What would it mean, to give up praising our children so often? In the first stage, I fell off the wagon around other parents when they were busy praising their kids. I didn’t want Luke to feel left out.
-Specific-type praise: This was easier said than done.Every night he has math homework and is supposed to read a phonics book aloud. Each takes about five minutes if he concentrates, but he’s easily distracted. So I praised him for concentrating without asking to take a break. If he listened to instructions carefully, I praised him for that. After soccer games, I praised him for looking to pass, rather than just saying, “You played great.” And if he worked hard to get to the ball, I praised the effort he applied. Just as the research promised, this focused praise helped him see strategies he could apply the next day. It was remarkable how noticeably effective this new form of praise was.
-Reasons for parents being the real praise junkies:
- Praising him for just a particular skill or task felt like I left other parts of him ignored and unappreciated.
- We put our children in high-pressure environments, seeking out the best schools we can find, then we use the constant praise to soften the intensity of those environments and hide our expectations behind constant glowing praise. The duplicity became glaring to me.
- Offering praise has become a sort of panacea for the anxieties of modern parenting. In those few hours together, we want them to hear the things we can’t say during the day—We are here for you, we believe in you.
-Cultivate habits and awareness of effort and it’s rewards. Also, focus on improvements due to effort.
-Ensure they at times are beyond their comfort zone, experience failure and work to success from there. The movie, “Meet the Robinsons” has a good example of handling failure.
-When someone praises your child, instead of saying Thanks! (it was hard work! ), deflect it a bit, saying “Thanks for your words”.
-Work together, one parent cannot do it by himself\herself and work for the Child’s growth, not our own emotional needs.
One example study from the many in article:
For the past ten years, psychologist Carol Dweck and her team at Columbia (she’s now at Stanford) studied the effect of praise on students in a dozen New York schools. Her seminal work—a series of experiments on 400 fifth-graders—paints the picture most clearly.
Dweck sent four female research assistants into New York fifth-grade classrooms. The researchers would take a single child out of the classroom for a nonverbal IQ test consisting of a series of puzzles.
The test was difficult, designed for kids two years ahead of their grade level. Predictably, everyone failed. But again, the two groups of children, divided at random at the study’s start, responded differently. Those praised for their effort on the first test assumed they simply hadn’t focused hard enough on this test. “They got very involved, willing to try every solution to the puzzles,” Dweck recalled. “Many of them remarked, unprovoked, ‘This is my favorite test.’ ” Not so for those praised for their smarts. They assumed their failure was evidence that they weren’t really smart at all. “Just watching them, you could see the strain. They were sweating and miserable.”.
Having artificially induced a round of failure, Dweck’s researchers then gave all the fifth-graders a final round of tests that were engineered to be as easy as the first round. Those who had been praised for their effort significantly improved on their first score—by about 30 percent. Those who’d been told they were smart did worse than they had at the very beginning—by about 20 percent.
Dweck had suspected that praise could backfire, but even she was surprised by the magnitude of the effect. “Emphasizing effort gives a child a variable that they can control,” she explains. “They come to see themselves as in control of their success. Emphasizing natural intelligence takes it out of the child’s control, and it provides no good recipe for responding to a failure.”
You might also want to read my earlier summary of Secrets of greatness: Practice and Hard work bring success: Articles on becoming Great. The key: Time, Smart Hard work & Visualization