October 28, 2011

Person-based praise and process-based praise — are you praising your kids the best way?

"The parents who gave more process-praise had children who believe their intelligence and social qualities could be developed and they were more eager for challenges" — according to Stanford researcher Carol Dweck, quoted in this essay by Jenny Anderson.

I haven't delved through Dweck's study, but I wonder whether correlation is causation here. Maybe less intelligent parents are the ones who make "person-based" comments like "You're so smart!" and more intelligent parents figure out that it is better not to tell the child what he is but to talk about the specifics of the thing that he is attempting to do. If so, the difference in intelligence may be simply inborn. 

39 comments:

MadisonMan said...

If so, the difference in intelligence may be simply inborn.

My Dad, the son of a genetics professor, would say: Regression to the Mean!

Extremely smart people do not necessarily have extremely smart children, just as very tall people do not always have very tall children.

raf said...

more intelligent parents figure out that it is better not to tell the child what he is but to talk about the specifics of the thing that he is attempting to do

Or vice versa. If you have an intelligent child -- one who can more easily grasp a process critique -- you can adopt a process-praise approach more easily than if such (relatively) detailed comments go over his head. In the latter case, looking for a good behavior and saying the equivalent of "Good boy!" may be more effective.

This is true of adults, too.

ndspinelli said...

"I wasn't aware they gave ribbons for 13th place." The Fockers

TWM said...

All I know is if you constantly praise your kids with "You're so smart" it's awfully hard to tell them they are dumbasses when they screw-up.

And let's face it, everyone is a dumbass now and again.

Sixty Grit said...
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Henry said...

What raf said.

My four-year-old found a box of miscellaneous small-electrical parts in my work area. He immediately started making a catapult out of alligator clips and wire.

Forget "you are really smart" or "you are trying really hard". With this kid its "Holy moly look at that".

Let's not forget how much kids generate their own type of feedback.

Dust Bunny Queen said...

Interesting article and quite apropos to what is going on now in the Occupy Everywhere movement.

I think you parent (as a verb) in the same way that you were raised. If your parents praised and encouraged for process and not just for breathing or accomplishing the basic skills of living...like eating, that is probably how you will raise your own children.

"These people love their kids as much as I love mine. But they don’t congratulate them for showing up. Maybe they are onto something."

Several generations were raised in uber permissive fashion and we see the results in the spoiled tantrum throwing of the OWS crowds.

Dr. Spock has a lot of 'splaining to do.

raf said...

Of course, saying "Good boy!" at random intervals disconnected from any specific behavior (which seems to be the self-esteem approach) is not only unproductive, it is distinctly counter-productive. Just imagine if that were the approach adopted for toilet training.

TWM said...

"Dr. Spock has a lot of 'splaining to do."

Dr. Brazelton didn't help much either.

Surfed said...
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Surfed said...

As I've mentioned before in postings on this site, I teach refugees and immigrants in a public inner city school. Back in the 90's when I was mid way through my teaching career all the old WWII vets that had been running the public schools since the 1950's retired. In their place we recieved newly minted Administrators (mostly women) who brought with them the trope of "Self Esteem" for the masses. Two years of dealing with that foolishness and I sent my child to Catholic schools where they got a great liberal arts education that rather defiantly did bend to the self esteem movement or others of the same ilk. Nuns do not hand out self esteem like candy. My daughter has done very well for herself and all the esteem she has gained has been her own.

Scott M said...

After 4 kids, I agree 100% with the process-based aspect. It's one of the things my wife and I almost instinctively agreed on as far how to deal with our kids.

Praise is only part of it, though. It's equally more effective to talk about a bad behavior than it is to call the child bad.

All in all, I see our kids reacting positively to our method than those of my friends and relatives, who scold or praise the child directly all the time.

Richard Dolan said...

"I wonder whether correlation is causation here."

That phrase caught my eye. It's also the point of an interesting piece by Nate Silver today. Silver's focus is on the way in which experts discount uncertainties, often confusing correlation with causation when it supports a predetermined thesis. We're all familiar with that kind of thing from economists or social scientists trying to forecast near-term events and the like. But Silver cites a 2005 study for the proposition that most medical research results today cannot be reproduced in a controlled experiment -- pretty much science's definition of unreliablity. I had never seen that contention before, and frankly it was astounding. (I wonder whether the study he cites shows up in any Daubert-based decisions.)

"Studies" like the one Ann blogs about here invite that kind of skepticism.

traditionalguy said...

The Bell Curves around and proves once more that we inherit a tradition as well as a physical sack of water with a skeleton from our ancestors.

Blessings and cursings are generational, but taking credit for the blessings from our parents is normal.

Peter said...

If you're going to offer person-based praise then you'll probably offer person-based criticism, too.

And few are going to accept it.

"You're dumb!" is going to get rejected. "You're work could be a whole lot better!" not only depersnoalizes the criticism (somewhat) but implies that improvement is possible.

(And then there are the parents who just give the kid a whack when the kid's being annoying. So, is giving a whack person or proces?)

Kit said...

I think it has little to do with intelligence, it's more about luck. The luck (good or bad) of being raised the same way your parents were raised.

Dan in Philly said...

I vote we as parents stop trying to manipulate our children and instead try to parent them. My novel idea is try to raise your kids with good values and stop trying to maximize their future earnings potentials, and then let them figure out the rest.

Oligonicella said...

Althouse --

"...more intelligent parents figure out that it is better not to tell the child what he is but to talk about the specifics of the thing that he is attempting to do."

No, they do not. A good parent tells his/her child the truth.

"If so, the difference in intelligence may be simply inborn. "

With actual examples of brilliant people being born into families not brilliant, I don't see how anyone with intelligence could believe this.

Oligonicella said...

TWM --

"All I know is if you constantly praise your kids with "You're so smart" it's awfully hard to tell them they are dumbasses when they screw-up."

Not really.

"That was a dumbass move. You're smarter than that."

Oligonicella said...

Dust Bunny Queen --

"I think you parent (as a verb) in the same way that you were raised."

I consciously raised my daughter radically different than the complete indifference I was raised to, so no, it's not an automatic.

rhhardin said...

No TV if your grades don't improve, is the praise I remember.

Which meant no TV, pretty much.

That came out as the positive influence.

edutcher said...

They must be shaking in their boots at the Columbia University Teachers' College.

The Gray Lady just shot down 40 years of theories in one article.

Mitochondri-Allie said...

Every one of my four kids got praise as warranted and got critique as warranted. All four are successful hard working individuals. Three of them were at the Madison protests at one time or another, three of them hold full time jobs in professions any parent would be proud of. One of them is a full time wife and Mom of my grandchildren.

traditionalguy said...

When parents take it seriously, the Home Schooled children are very confident and learn much more than the Public Schooled children.

But their social skills require adding regular church activities attendance at a church that respects intelligent secular as well as religious knowledge.

DADvocate said...

When my oldest son was an infant, I read a similar study in a parenting magazine. It made sense to me and I followed that method. I'm quite pleased with the results.

Intelligence is largely inborn, but hard work (the process) is learned. I've known plenty of smart people who are failures, social misfits, etc and plenty of average, or less, intelligence people that are successful, etc.

Ignorance is Bliss said...

Peter said...

So, is giving a whack person or proces?)

You misspelled process.

*WHACK*

Howard said...

Like Surfed, we raised our kids in the narcissistic baby-boomer have it all self esteem and quality time era where saying NO was child abuse. It was a great teaching tool as we always apologized to the kids for negatively impacting their self esteem every time we refused a request or grilled them on the 2% they missed on a test. Praise is over-rated. Kids respond positively to high expectations, freedom to fail and clearly defined boundaries. Love and spending a lot of low-quality time is much more important than anything else. The goal of right parenting is to make your kids healthy, strong, happy and smart. Most people are too self-absorbed to do the work and employ common sense, so they look for tricks from experts to assuage guilt.

edwardroyce said...

Are these kids they are praising or bipedal dogs? A certain amount of confirmation may be in order for the parents.

Darleen said...

the main problem with person-based praise is that a healthy dose of humility is rarely instilled.

The idea one is inherently good sans behavior leads to the kind of vapid amorality so rampant in today's culture.

TMink said...

I don't praise my daughter for being blonde, I praise her for working hard. It is important to reinforce choices not gifts.

Trey

MayBee said...

Praise freely and criticize specifically. Make expectations clear. Teach and encourage the skill of good decision making. Make sure they've experienced consequences for their actions/choices.

Darleen said...

MayBee

I'd add the old Heinlein advice -- keep your kids long on hugs, short on pocket money.

Fernandinande said...

Regardless of the MSM article, she's talking about differences in types and amount of motivation, not intelligence:
Praise for Intelligence Can Undermine Children's Motivation and Performance.pdf

MayBee said...

I'd add the old Heinlein advice -- keep your kids long on hugs, short on pocket money.

Love that, Darleen.

MayBee said...

I wonder if Steve Jobs got a lot of person-based praise. He certainly seemed to embrace the concept.

Tari said...

The book Nurture Shock spends a good deal of time on this subject and leans towards this being causation and not correlation. My favorite parenting book of all time.

And - as we all likely know - praising the process works. When my younger son was small he had a very traumatic time at the pre-school we were stupid enough to select for him. At 4 he was fond of saying things like "I not smart" and "I can't do that". It took a lot of work as parents and the blessing of a wonderful new school to get him to believe that he had the ability to try, to work - and then to see himself succeed. If we would have merely argued with him and told him "no, you're smart" we wouldn't have gotten very far. He certainly wouldn't have the good grades he has now nor the black belt he earned in taekwondo (at 8 years old). In fact, martial arts reinforced the "process over person" manta 1000%: no one ever says "you've just not good at this" at taekwondo, the way someone might say to a kid playing baseball. It just doesn't happen. Instead the kids are told "Wrong. Try it again. Keep working." Thank God for that!

Revenant said...

Intelligence is almost entirely inherited. The important thing is to make sure children know how to use the intelligence they were born with.

Mark said...

Why choose?

Seriously, I'm always telling my daughter she's pretty and my son he's handsome (they really are, and that helps) because I think good body image is important. (They're twins and four years old, btw.) I also praise them for performance (when they solve problems, or do something particularly creative or coordinated.)

I also scold them when they misbehave, and I've been known to tell them that saying "I can't" without trying is the fastest way to make their dad No Fun To Be Around. And when they act like they can't do something that I know they perfectly well can do, that's instant time-out.

These studies that presume only one type of conditioning is appropriate for all children for all ocasions strike me as fundamentally foolish.

Synova said...

It seems to me that we've been told, over and over, by the experts, that we're supposed to have person-based praise and process-based disapproval. I don't think this has anything whatsoever to do with the native intelligence of either the parents or the children. This was what we were told was important to our children's self-esteem. (I notice, also that disapproval isn't mentioned, only different options for praise.)

I can see (having certainly done this with my own children) that it sort of makes a skewed "you are never a bad person and what you do is always good" message and that a child who is allowed to view their worth as a result of process (contrary to what parents of my generation were told was so important) that they very well might value process and performance more than their generation tends to do.

And, BTW, isn't this a little Tiger Mom-ish? Her theory was that children felt good about themselves because they were forced to do difficult things well, so they learned that they could.

So is this just a repackaged not-to-offend Tiger Mom approach?