Research has proven that the way in which parents praise their kids is of paramount importance.
"We are becoming praise junkies as parents, " says Jenn Berman PhD. , author of The A to Z Guide to Raising Happy and Confident Kids and a marriage and family therapist.
"Though well-intentioned, putting kids on a pedestal at an early age can actually hinder their growth", says Paul Donahue, founder of Child Development Associates.
Experts know that the quality and type of praise is more important than the quantity. However, it is agreed that not praising children enough can be just as debilitating as too much praise.
Studies have revealed that when students possess a particular gift it is mainly because they had received extra tuition at home by their parents. Studies also show that excellence does not come so much from genetic inheritance and talent, but rather from practice.
Experts now believe that while some children start out with an advantage, this is not particularly pertinent. It has been proven that with practice even the anatomy of the brain can be transformed.
A survey of pianists illustrated that the area of the brain which governs finger movement is significantly larger than for the rest of us - but it did not commence like this; it grew with practice.
The question of effort versus talent changes the process of how a child thinks, feels and generally engages with the wider world.
A leading psychologist, Carol Dweck, took 400 students and gave them a simple puzzle. Afterwards, each of the students were given words of praise. Half were praised for effort: “You must be hard working!" The other half were praised for intelligence: “You must be really smart!"
Students were then given a choice to take either an easy or a hard test.
Two-thirds of the students praised for intelligence preferred the easy task - they would not run the risk of losing their “smart" label. However, 90% of the effort-praised group wanted the tough test - they needed to show just how hard working they were.
After that, the test came full circle, providing the students the opportunity to obtain a test of equal difficulty to the first test.
The intelligence-praised group dropped in performance by 20%, compared to their first test, even though there was no greater degree of difficulty. However, the effort-praised group increased their score by 30%. Failure had actually stimulated them.
"Praising children's intelligence harms motivation and it harms performance. These were some of the clearest findings I've seen, " Dweck said.
Three things were revealed from this study:
- Children should be trained to see challenges as learning opportunities, rather than intimidations.
- Kids should be praised for effort, not talent.
- Anyone interacting with children should understand that abilities can be changed.
Experienced early childhood teacher Susan Syddall, who home schools her two boys, has proven that encouraging children to learn through fun gains tremendous results.