The ways parents and teachers praise young people makes a lot of difference in whether that praise is encouraging and motivating. Effective praise helps develop a “growth mindset” in which young people recognize that they can learn and grow through effort and practice. The following chart spells out six tips for praise that encourage youth to develop a growth mindset.
|Purposeful, specific, and sincere||“Great game! You really passed well to your teammates.” is more encouraging than, “Great game!”||Being concrete reinforces those behaviors. If, however, you both know the player didn’t pass well or it wasn’t a great game, then this isn’t sincere. The praise won’t help the young person learn.|
|Reinforce behavior and effort, not “natural” intelligence||“Congratulations! I know you studied really hard.” is more encouraging than, “Congratulations! You’re really smart.”||The first option focuses on an action that can be maintained or improved. If you praise someone because of something fixed (such as “being smart”), it’s harder to cope with failure.|
|Attainable and realistic||“That is a beautiful picture. I love the colors you picked!” is more encouraging than, “That picture is amazing! It could go in an art gallery.”||Inflated praise can backfire. It gives the impression that you have to meet exceptionally high standards, which you know you can’t always do. That undermines motivation.|
|Information rich||“I love the salad you made. It has a nice mix of flavors and colors!” is more encouraging than, “I love your salad!”||Giving more detailed information reinforces strategies that can be used when similar situations come up in the future.|
|Self-focused, not in comparison to others||“You made a lot of progress in correcting grammatical errors.” is more encouraging than, “You did much better on this than many other students.”||Praising in comparison to others may motivate when we always win. But we feel defeated when we don’t always win, so we aren’t motivated internally to learn and grow.|
|Effort more than achievement||“I like how you took deep breaths to stay calm even when you were upset at your sister.” is more encouraging than, “Thanks for not pushing your sister.”||The focus on effort emphasizes being able to grow and learn.|
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