A feverish child has left me a little behind the eight ball the last few days, so I’m behind in reporting on a recent New York Magazine article on the effects of praising kids. Local reader Melanie from Arlington wrote in highly recommending not only checking out the article, but also listening to the NPR On Point interview with Po Bronson, the author of the New York Magazine article, and Carol Dweck, the lead on the research study that provided the catalyst for the feature.
Dweck’s experiments, based out of Columbia University, found that praising for effort vs. intelligence on problem solving tasks significantly influenced motivation and subsequent performance, and not in a good way for those praised for intelligence. This body of work – which held across socioeconomic and gender differences – strongly supports the psychological construct that praise, self-esteem, and performance rise and fall in tandem. And while some parents and educators stand by their praise of aptitude, Dweck’s data and other subjective reports suggest that being gifted - and perpetuating the need for perfection through praise - can cause a child to under perform due to fear of failure and embarrassment.
This feature struck a related chord. Back in middle and high school I under performed academically because I desperately wanted to be cool and not fulfill Asian stereotypes (playing the violin already was a strike against me here). And literally days before this feature came out, Jon expressed concern about this very topic, wondering whether we should ease off of our praise of Laurel's various accomplishments. At this point, the developmental milestones and language development come so fast and furiously that praise and amazement are reflexive. But this report certainly gave me pause, wondering whether we ought to translate our potty mantra to other parenting arenas, by playing it cool and commending the effort, not necessarily the outcome.