After a winning game, if you ask a San Francisco Giants baseball player how his team won, he will almost always praise his teammates for the hard work they put into improving their skills.
We want our kids to be smart and to win, but the way we praise them may be strengthening the very things that keep them from achieving the success they want.
Praise is a powerful tool that can shape the way people see themselves and their abilities. To use it as positive reinforcement, we need to be sure to focus on effort, not just ability or intelligence.
Don't Close the Doors
Praise that focuses only on performance, intelligence, and ability can reinforce social stereotypes about what people can or cannot do: Girls can't do math, boys can't write poetry, people with learning challenges aren't smart.
If we are taught to view success as a sign of being smart and failure as a sign of low intelligence, we are likely to identify ourselves with these traits and expect our future to be limited by them.
Open the Possibilities
Praise that emphasizes the value of working hard to learn and acquire skills opens us to possibilities: I can see you're trying hard, you're getting better at writing sentences, I'm proud of the hard work you put into this.
Praising effort, hard work, and tenacity encourages people to:
- Stay with a task longer. Practice develops skills.
- See failure as part of a learning process, not as proof that they are deficient.
- View a mistake as an opportunity to test and correct a problem.
- Develop self-confidence as they see improvements over a long term.
- Be willing to try new things and realize that they are not limited by stereotypes about ability or intelligence.
Praising for effort instead of intelligence or ability reflects the ways we actually learn and grow. That's what we need to succeed!
Contact us at The Literacy & Language Center if you'd like more information about the positive reinforcement of praise.