Praise, is it overrated? Do we do it right? Can we do it wrong? A study published just this year by a team at Columbia University headed up by psychologist Carol Dweck, found some very intersting things.

The first test was on a group of 5th graders:

Children were given a non-verbal IQ test, doing a series of puzzles. The test was easy enough that all children would do very well. After the test, each student was told their score and given a single line of praise. They were either praised for their intelligence or their effort.

Here's the kicker...

Then the students were given a choice of tests for the second round. They could choose a test that would be more difficult than the first, but the researchers told the kids that they'd learn a lot from attempting the puzzles. the other choice was described simply as an easy test. Of those praised for their effort, 90 percent chose the harder set of puzzles. Of those praised for their intelligence, a majority chose the easy test. The "smart" kids took the cop-out.

The smart kids chose to look smart and avoid the risk of being embarrassed. The kids who were praised for their efforts got into the subsequent tests and really tried hard to master the puzzles even when they got progressivly harder.

What does this mean to you?
How can you implement this in your own home?

5 comments

I totally appreciate this and agree with it. Sam is only in 1st grade but already he has been labeled by all the kids and the teacher as "smart" (oh how well I remember my own days as the "smart one").

I'll never forget the day I picked him up from school and the first words he said to me as he climbed in the van were, "I got some answers wrong." He looked sooo upset! It was just some in-class work and he only missed 2 or 3 questions!

I can tell you that I prayed really hard and fast. He stood next to me in the van and showed me the paper and he looked him in the eye and said, "Did you try? Did you do your best? If you did then this is a great paper. And if you need help understanding something, Mom and Dad or your teacher are here to help you." He looked so relieved...and it still makes my heart ache that at the age of 6 he was already worried.

Being intelligent didn't get me good grades in high school chemistry or a degree in college--I still tend to be a quitter when the going gets tough.

Sorry for my long comment but you sure hit a chord with me, Sandi :)

so glad you posted this. i have read similar studies and have certainly seen anecdotal evidence that confirms this. we try very hard to praise the kids for their effort, their trying, their determination, etc. but this is always a good reminder!

This is tough, when your kindergarten student is at the top of her class and is so motivated to get everything right - - I wonder how it's going to be when my very different other little girl is in school.

I appreciated this as well. I need to remember to notice the trying, not simply the succeeding. Working out easy ways to do this is a bit difficult for me. It's so easy to tell them, "you're so smart!"
- I can see you are trying really hard... I'll think on this some more.

Intelligence and effort should go hand in hand. Help your children realize this by your example and praise. My three sons all had the intelligence to accept any challenge but sometimes the effort waned in the final result. Help your children understand that choosing difficult challenges requires effort to equal the intelligence required for success.