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Praise children for their efforts not intelligence or talent

If you think your praise can never harm your child … read this and think again!

Po Bronson published an elaborate article in New York Magazine, titled "How Not to Talk to Your Kids" revolving around a revolutionary study by Stanford Psychologist Carol Dweck, who says :

“Praise children for their work and performance - not their intelligence and talent.”

Dweck told us something which always existed around us but we never recognized it.

Let’s see what’s wrong with praising intelligence or talent:

  •     Why not praise intelligence or talent?
  •     Why praise efforts and hard work?
  •     How to encourage efforts?

Want to watch a video about it? Here it is:


Why not praise intelligence or talent?

When we praise children for their intelligence or some other talent, they are happy about it. They think they’re talented because they are born with it. Here is what this happy feeling does to them:

As doing something comes naturally to them, they think they need not make any efforts for it. As they don’t hear any criticism about their talent, they think there is no need for further improvement in their talent. This makes them under-estimate the importance of efforts. They think that talented people need not make efforts and the efforts are meant for average people only. Putting in efforts looks stigmatic to them. Therefore, their level of effort making tendency is very low.

The feeling of being talented takes their self esteem very high. So high that they become image conscious. They want to maintain their image at any cost. When they have a class test they focus less on efforts, more on their rank and tearing others down. They are more concerned about competition, less about preparation. When they score less marks, they tell lies inflating their marks.

Self esteem alone doesn’t work. Some of the criminals are also found thinking very high of themselves. If praise raises self esteem at the cost of learning perseverance, it isn’t worth it.

Dweck says 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, and avoid the risk of being embarrassed. This lesson itself becomes a major hurdle in motivating children to put in efforts.

They don’t even try to do things other than they are naturally good at. Why? Because they are afraid of failure …. which would spoil their image. If they take a little longer time in learning something, they give up too quickly, without making sufficient efforts. They think they aren’t naturally good at it so why even try it. This takes them away from many activities.

They think success depends on intelligence or talent (something natural and beyond one’s control) and not on efforts (something under one’s control). This way they learn that success depends on factors beyond their control. So why make efforts for it?

They tend to become perfectionist. For them either you do it perfectly or don’t even try it. They don’t believe in normal or moderate performance. They want to show that they are amazing at whatever they do, because they are genius. For them being average is meaningless.

Result, … they have low perseverance level. These children don’t take initiatives just for the sake of avoiding the embarrassment of failure. Failures depress them easily.

Why praise efforts and hard work?

When we praise the child for his efforts, hard work and performance and not for his intelligence and talent, he subconsciously learns that intelligence and talents can be developed by working hard. Therefore, such children:

  •     are full of persistence.
  •     maintain their motivation level at a higher level in the phases of adversities.
  •     learn to handle failures and survive them.
  •     bounce back after failures, put in their best efforts and succeed.

Most of the successful men and women in the world have been successful because they worked very hard through long periods of struggle and failures.

Challenges don’t discourage them, but makes them ready to put in even more efforts.

How to encourage efforts?


That’s all right, but how to do it?

What we need to do is just to watch our words and do a little tweaking of our words. That’s all!

Let’s see a few examples how we can improve our words of praise just by making small changes:

Wrong Right
Praising talent Praising efforts
You are the best dancer! You have put in lots of sweating hours to improve your dance.
Well Played! You hit the ball at the right time.
Excellent! Almost right! Try again.
You're great singer! My God! You seem to have worked really hard for this.

We need to teach our children that brain is like any other muscle in our body and it can be developed by making it work hard. Brain develops faster when challenged. And that makes them real smart.

A hard working child with average IQ is a lot better than a lazy smart kid.

Let’s Praise the process and not the outcome.

Let’s appreciate the hard work and efforts they are putting and not their intelligence or talent.

Let's encourage children to keep their focus on efforts and not the result.

Moral of the story: Teach them the age-old lesson, "Try, try again!"

“How to succeed? ... Try hard enough.” - Malcolm Forbes (1919-1990)

I have applied this in praising my son and the results are amazing!

Importance and effect of words of encouragement and praise.
How to praise and encourage a child
Perils of over-praise: don't overpraise your child


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