We Need To Praise Efforts, Not Just Success

My son, Nick – who’s pursuing his aerospace engineering PhD, sent me an article he read online. “Mom, have you read this?

I clicked the link and saw it was an article from 2007 that I’ve not only read but have distributed to parents of gifted children to read.  How Not to Talk to Your Kids – The Inverse Power Of Praise.

The important theme of the article is based on Carol Dweck’s research that we need to praise efforts and not just praise success.  Work ethic is important!  Many people expect accomplishment to come easily for gifted children. And, too often, gifted children give up easily and quickly when they don’t get something immediately.

Gifted kids need the opportunity to struggle and not always have things come easily to them.

According to the article, if you have experience with persistence, it can become an unconscious response, governed by a circuit in the brain. If we don’t ever give kids the opportunity to struggle with something hard, they won’t develop pathways in their brain that help them learn how to create a work ethic to work harder to succeed. Instead, they’ll back away from a task that’s challenging. That’s what so many gifted kids do. If they can’t get it immediately they give up.

This philosophy of praising effort develops persistence and a stronger work ethic. If you fail, try again. 

Thomas Edison reportedly made a thousand unsuccessful attempts at creating an electric light bulb. What if he had given up after one or two tries?  Sometimes, many times, gifted people still have to work hard at things. Being gifted might give you a leg up on a task, but it doesn’t ensure a perfect result.  Not everything is easy and comes naturally… even for gifted individuals.

Nick said one of the paragraphs in the article How Not to Talk to Your Kids – The Inverse Power Of Praise that he related most strongly was this:

“Dweck discovered that those who think that innate intelligence is the key to success begin to discount the importance of effort. I am smart, the kids’ reasoning goes; I don’t need to put out effort. Expending effort becomes stigmatized—it’s public proof that you can’t cut it on your natural gifts.”

Here’s Nick’s comment:

“I relate to the line because I still have those subconscious feelings that if I were really that smart, I would be able to just ‘get’ something.  Like yesterday, I was having a conversation with someone in Spanish.  I could understand most of what he said, but in the pieces that I didn’t get, I didn’t want to ask him what he said because I should be able to understand him – probably with the subconscious reasoning that “I’m smart.”  But it takes practice and studying and listening to be able to understand Spanish correctly.”

“I think math is a great example of this for me.  Math has never been difficult, and I honestly don’t remember math being hard for me, or really having to work at it ever.  So when I really have to work to understand a problem or work at a solution, it’s more effort than I’m used to, and I have a difficult time applying myself to it for an extended period of time.  It becomes boring or discouraging and I want to move on to something else.”

Thanks for reminding me of this article, Nick. I’m glad I can share it again here. We need to instill in all children that hard work is important.  Teach them that no matter how smart they are, they’re still going to have to work hard at times.  Smart does not always mean things are going to be easy.

photos and images from FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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