Monday, February 15, 2010

NurtureShock chapter "The Inverse Power of Praise"

Nurtureshock, the book I mentioned in a previous post, has so much interesting information for those who interact with children and youth. The first chapter discusses how constantly praising a child in an effort to build his self-esteem can backfire. For instance, praising children for being "smart" causes them to be afraid to take risks when confronted with challenging problems; it's far better to praise them for their effort so that they realize they can tackle difficult exercises without having their self-esteem in doubt.
"Emphasizing effort gives a child a variable that they can control," [Dr. Carol Dweck] explains. "They naturally come to see themselves as in control of their success. Emphasizing natural intelligence takes it out of the child's control, and it provides no good recipe for responding to a failure."

Junior high students who were taught how intelligence is not innate (i.e., they spent 50 minutes learning about how the brain grows new neurons when challenged) improved their study habits and grades.
It appears the self-esteem movement has been less effective than anticipated. A former proponent of self-esteem has concluded in light of the studies done on the subject that having high self-esteem did not improve grades or career achievement or reduce violence and alcohol usage. There is evidence for the helpfulness of specific, sincere praise, but general praise by adults is often viewed by youth as a sign that they are lacking in ability and need encouragement. Unfortunately, they have found that overpraised kids become "more competitive and interested in tearing other down" because "[i]mage maintenance becomes their primary concern."
One of the authors notes that he realized he was giving his child nonspecific praise as a way of expressing unconditional love. He changed to giving specific praise after finding out about the negative effects of praise. I learned a while back that telling a child that she is "smart" often leads to perfectionism and failure to achieve in the child, so I've been careful to not say that. Now I will be even more confident in the specific praise I give my daughters and when I want to express my love for them, I will just hug them and say "I love you very much." Might as well say what I mean. :)

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