By Camille Chatterjee, published on September 1, 1997 - last reviewed on June 9, 2016
Common sense suggests that giving children positive feedback on
school work will increase their interest in learning. But could we be
damning them with the wrong kind of praise? Recent research indicates
that congratulating kids for working hard -- rather than complimenting
their innate ability -- is the best way to help them make the grade.
Carol Dweck, Ph.D., and Claudia Mueller, both of Columbia
University, told fifth-graders who worked on a set of math problems that
they "must have worked hard," "must be smart," or simply that they "did
well." Next, the students completed another problem set and were all told
that they "did a lot worse." The result? The "hardworking" kids were much
more likely to take problems home for extra practice, to say they enjoyed
the tasks, and to perform well on later tasks than the "smart"
Children praised for their natural abilities were not so resilient.
Their motivation and performance suffered after their "failure," and they
tended to inflate their scores when reporting them to others. Ultimately,
they began to measure their worth by their test results, believes Dweck.
"The kind of praise that all of society thinks is wonderful is the kind
of praise that makes kids very vulnerable," she says. "Parents need to
focus on what children put into a task, rather than making implications
about the worth of the child."