How to Praise a Child: What Works Best?


So I’m a week late here … but this Washington Post story seems a couple years late itself.

Didn’t Po Bronson already cover this in Nurture Shock?

Nevertheless, it seems worthy of repeating, because I am fully, one hundred percent on board with praising children for hard work rather than, say, innate ability: “You worked so hard!” vs. “You’re so smart!” Basically the idea is that in all this praise meant to build a child’s self esteem, we’ve turned them into lazy, entitled brats who think they can get by on smarts alone, despite the fact that they can’t.

Or something like that. I’m sure there’s a scientific term for it. I just like the idea of instilling the sense of working hard, not relying on just innate ability. Also, no dancing in the woods on Sunday.

Seriously, despite the fact that I am a convert, I still have a hard time at it. At first, it was really, really difficult to come up with praise for my daughter that didn’t just sound so unbelievably awkward. I grew up hearing endless, “Great jobs!” and “You’re smart!” so to suddenly switch to “You are so persistent!” just felt … weird. But after a few years, I got used to it and I’m going to brag a little here. My daughter just had her first report card — ever! — and one of the first things the teacher said is how she works so hard to solve things. I love it! And I hope that remains.

Do you give praise for work vs. smarts and if so, what terms do you use?

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