Be Smart With Your Praise

Wow, you're doing great!


I left a comment on a post by a fellow dad blogger the other day in which I mentioned that Mrs. LIAYF and I try to avoid praising our 3yo son for being smart.  I can’t find the comment now, so I am not sure what I specifically said, but he responded to me on twitter to ask what the logic was behind our position.

At the time, I gave him a short answer (it was Twitter after all) that what our son has control over how hard he works, but not how inherently smart he is.

Do we think our son is smart?  Hell yes we do.  We think he is brilliant, which I am sure most parents feel about their children. Do we tell him he is smart? Of course we do.  We just try to avoid it most of the time, instead opting to praise him for specific accomplishment and effort that he puts forth.  We don’t want him to begin to think things will or should automatically come easy to him because of his intelligence.

Based on her childhood experiences, Mrs. LIAYF brought this philosophy with her as we prepared to become first time parents.  It was only reinforced to us when we came across an article that was published back in February of 2007, just before Lukas was born, in The New Yorker titled. ‘How Not to Talk to Your Kids: The Inverse Power of Praise’.  This is a fantastic article and I highly recommend you take the time to click over and read it.  It is an extensive and thoroughly researched article, however here is a passage that centers on the main challenge that comes from too much generalized praise:

In follow-up interviews, Dweck discovered that those who think that innate intelligence is the key to success begin to discount the importance of effort. I am smart, the kids’ reasoning goes; I don’t need to put out effort. Expending effort becomes stigmatized—it’s public proof that you can’t cut it on your natural gifts.

This next passage basically sums up what Mrs. LIAYF and I find ourselves most susceptible to as full time working parents.  It is often in these situations where we have to check ourselves to make sure that we are praising not just in general, but truly recognizing why it is that our son is wonderful. What he specifically did that day which made us proud.

Offering praise has become a sort of panacea for the anxieties of modern parenting. Out of our children’s lives from breakfast to dinner, we turn it up a notch when we get home. In those few hours together, we want them to hear the things we can’t say during the day—We are in your corner, we are here for you, we believe in you.

Personally, his mother and I both feel that even though our son has demonstrated,  from birth,  that he an extremely perceptive and intelligent child – amazing us each and every day – that this fact alone will certainly not ensure his long term happiness and success in life. 

I grew up working from an early age on my family’s dairy farm, and thus know the value and rewards of working hard.  This is the type of mindset we would rather our little guy develop.  Because no matter who you are, the fact is that there will always be someone who is smarter.  No one can control that.

What we do have control of is how hard we work, or want to work to ensure that we place ourselves in the right situations so that success and happiness will have an easier time finding us.

Tell me revolutionary parents: What strategies surrounding praise do you employ with your kids?

One thought on “Be Smart With Your Praise”

  1. I like to think of it in terms of praising them for showing good character, not for for their natural, God-given gifts.  It’s also important to avoid empty praise.  Don’t tell your son he played a great game when he really could have done better.  Be thoughtful enough with your praises so they have some value when you offer them.

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