Praise the process, not the child

Published on Monday, October 21, 2013

Boys received more persistence-building praise than girls. Five years later, boys had greater persistence and better performance.

Praise that emphasizes a young child’s efforts, actions, and strategies yields greater persistence and better performance five years later.  Praise that focuses on a young child’s characteristics yields significantly less persistence and performance.  "The kind of praise focused on effort is called 'process praise' and sends the message that effort and actions are the sources of success, leading children to believe they can improve their performance through hard work," said Elizabeth Gunderson, Assistant Professor of Psychology at Temple University.

Researchers from Temple, Stanford, and the University of Chicago found that the amount of process praise parents used when their children were one and three years old predicted whether children welcomed new challenges and had strategies for overcoming failure five years later.  Children of parents who used person praise or general praise did not fare as well. The children who received process praise also had a stronger belief that intelligence and personality can be developed with effort.  

Here are some examples of process praise:

                You are really trying hard, or trying your best.

                Excellent job writing those letters.

                You are really sticking with this project.

                Good job counting the rabbits.

                You drew some lovely pumpkins.

Here are some examples of person praise:

                You’re really good at this.            

                You are a smart boy.

                You’re a good girl.

Here are some examples of general praise:

                You got it.

                Great.

                Excellent.

Researchers also found the parents of boys, ages 1 to 3, used more process praise than parents of girls at the same age. At age seven and eight, the boys in the study were more likely to have positive attitudes about academic challenges than girls. Boys also believed that intelligence could be improved.

These findings indicate that improving the quality of early parental praise may help children develop the belief that their future success is in their own hands.

Read more about this research