Poison Praise

On a recent flight I was intrigued by the flight magazine's cover.  The cover showed a beautiful girl, around ten years old, saddled with dozens of award ribbons. The article inside was titled "In Criticism of Praise."

The article humorously cataloged the lengths to which parents go to build our kids' self-esteem. The problem is, it can backfire.

We praise kids too much, telling them they are excellent at everything, even when they aren't. We care so much about self-esteem that we've created a false sense of importance within our children.

What's so bad about giving our kids healthy self-esteem? Nothing at all, but using praise the wrong way creates arrogant children.

None of us likes to be around someone who has an inflated view of himself. If an arrogant person is your boss, she likely won't value your input. If Mr. Bighead works for you, he probably won't take direction well.

An arrogant person cares more about himself than others, and this can lead to self-serving, mean-spirited actions. As self-centered people climb the corporate ladder, they often see others as rungs.

But these aren't the only problems. Too much praise can actually keep your child off the ladder to success. Children drenched in too much praise, or the wrong kind, grow up lacking two essential qualities for success.

1. Kids hooked on praise lack the confidence to fail. Children praised for 'being' wonderful develop a perverse fear of failure, not wanting to risk failing at something you've told them they are great at.

In a study from the magazine article, researchers gave children a relatively easy IQ test. They then told half the participants their scores, plus the line "You must be smart at this." The other half received their scores plus the line "You must have worked really hard."

The first group was praised for being smart. The second group was praised for effort.

Next the children were given a choice to take a harder test that promised to 'teach you something new' or an easy test, similar to the first. Among the students praised for effort, 90 percent chose the harder test. But the majority of the students praised for being smart chose the easy one.

Apparently these 'smart' kids couldn't risk losing their lofty position so they opted to avoid the harder challenge.

In a second phase, all the children received a challenge as easy as the first one. Children praised for effort improved their test scores by an average of 30 percent. Children praised for being smart decreased their scores by 20 percent!

When children are willing to risk failure, they discover a key to success. They actually learn more since they don't have to prove how smart they are.

2. Kids inundated with praise lack the willingness to persevere. These kids only seek out challenges that they are sure they can master. They don't persevere in the face of a hard task.

Parents hinder their children when they continually prevent them from encountering failure. Kids know when they are good at something, and when they are not. They're smart enough to know whether they are the best player on the team, or the worst.

Regardless, parents can praise their children for effort, or simply express an interest in what their child is doing. Instead of false praise, simply ask them to tell you about what they're working on. If you tell a child he is a prodigy when he's not, you lose your credibility, and any praise you give loses its value.

If you want your children to seek out challenge and handle failure well, praise them for effort. By holding back on praise, you allow your child to develop the internal motivation to improve.

You can read the whole article by Heidi Stevens here: http://paceco.imirus.com/Mpowered/book/vpco15/i1/p66