To praise or not to praise: Is that the question?
Do you know someone who is a “praise junkie”?
A praise junkie is someone who thrives on praise, yearns for praise, and just can’t get enough of it. Only a steady diet of praise sustains the junkie’s self-esteem.
Kids who are constantly praised for being smart can become praise junkies. The cost is pretty high, according to psychological research described in journalist Po Bronson’s just-released book, “Nurture Shock: New Thinking about Children.” (You can hear him on a recent NPR radio program, or read his article in New York Magazine.)
Kids don’t interpret praise in the way it is intended, especially undifferentiated remarks like “Good job” or “I know you can do it.” The message kids may get is this—the teacher thinks I’m incapable or at the end of my abilities.
Praise junkies underestimate the importance of effort and persistence. Kids who keep hearing that they’re smart often under-perform in school. Some won’t try anything that they’re not instantly good at, preferring to do things that come easily and make them “look good.” They won’t take the risk of embarrassment.
If kids become praise junkies, it may be their parents who are the dealers. Meaning to bolster self-esteem, generic and vague praise has the opposite effect.
Praise is important, but it’s effective only it if is specific and authentic. In his New York Magazine article, Bronson quotes a professor of psychiatry who says that praise should be concrete and linked to some specific skill or talent. Telling a son or daughter that they did a “Great job” playing soccer is meaningless. Better to say, “Nice work passing the ball to your teammates.” Even better, “I noticed that you passed the ball to your teammates” and let the recipient figure out that that’s a good thing.
Praising effort (rather than smarts) and emphasizing that the brain is a muscle that gets stronger with practice are good ways to go.
So, to praise or not to praise is not the right question. The right question is: What type of praise is the best?
What’s your experience—either as a recipient or giver of praise?
What worked—and didn’t work?
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