Reality Check: Smart Praise

I have previously suggested that supportive behaviours, such as encouraging and offering recognition, are helpful for building strong relationships. How about praise? Is it an effective way to recognize and encourage?
When little Joey started elementary school, he’d already had some preschool education. Thus, he easily caught on to reading, writing, and working with numbers.
Parents and teachers alike praised his intelligence. “You are so smart! You’ll never have to study.” They express in amazement, “He hears something once and knows it. He’s just that clever.”
True to their predictions, Joey managed to get through school without studying. He didn’t catch on to everything, mind you, but he got by. “Why study? I’m already smart!” is Joey’s view.
No longer little, Joey enrolled in college/university. He looked at his classmates on the first day and smugly concluded that he was the smartest person in the room. That’s what his parents had always told him and that’s what he believes.
Joey’s classmates got to work organizing study groups and setting up homework schedules. “Nerds and losers,” chuckled smart Joey.
This chosen field of study was new to Joey. He didn’t catch on quite as quickly as some of his classmates—the same folks that he had dismissed as being not-too-smart.
Confused and uncertain, Joey doesn’t know what to do!
Now, it might seem obvious to you and to me, but Joey honestly does not understand why his classmates are succeeding where he is not. Having never pushed himself before when something didn’t come easily, he is unequipped in this situation where persistence is necessary to get through a struggle.
Looking back, when little Joey’s parents praised him for being so smart, were they doing him a service?
According to Mindset author, Carol Dweck, it is much more helpful to show your children that you see them as individuals who can develop, rather than as individuals who have fixed traits, such as being smart (or not smart.)
Helpful praise (encouragement) connects with controllable actions. When Joey exerts a high degree of effort, when he chooses a kind action, when he persists in the face of failure, praising those actions may be appropriate.
On the other hand, praising Joey’s intelligence—a trait that is not under his control—could be counterproductive. If Joey is often told he’s “smart” for doing what comes easily, why would he ever try something difficult? That would be risky; he might end up looking not so smart after all! Better to keep on doing the easy things that he understands, rather than attempting more difficult challenges.
So, when little Joey recites his 2 times tables right first time, you might want to acknowledge his accomplishment, but hold off telling him he’s a world genius. If his performance is better (or worse) than his classmates, you might want to refrain from making comparisons. However, when Joey recites his multiplication tables, falters, makes mistakes, then continues working till he gets them right, now that’s praiseworthy!
The upshot: praise what they do, rather than who they are.
What do you think of offering praise? How do you do it?

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