The Life-long Benefits of Making Praise Work

February 13, 2017

Despite the fact that receiving praise causes the brain to release “feel good” chemicals (dopamine and opioids), there is debate between psychologists and researchers about the use of praise and whether it is a good or bad thing.  As a result, some schools are choosing not to praise so much and are advising parents to follow suit.

One of the arguments for not praising, is that children will become dependent on extrinsic rewards and will only do the behaviour for the praise.  Therefore, in the absence of praise, the children will no longer behave appropriately and any change in behaviour will be short-lived.

However, when given effectively (as described in our blog series) praise is a great encourager, which can result in long-term change as the children gradually begin to internalise the sense of accomplishment they feel when they’ve been praised.

ENCOURAGING SELF-PRAISE

For children to be motivated by intrinsic (internal) rewards, it is important to encourage them to self-praise. For example, “You must be really proud of the way you worked out that tricky maths problem.”  Or at home, “You handled that situation in the park really well; give yourself a pat on the back.”  Encouraging children to be proud of their accomplishments, motivates them to do things for their own sense of achievement, rather than for any extrinsic (external) rewards.  This means they will be better motivated to achieve in life.

MODELLING SELF-PRAISE

Children are keen observers of how we behave, therefore, modelling self-praise is a great way to encourage children to do it too.  We are all quick to self-criticise and you may think that self-praise means we are being big-headed or conceited.  However, self-praise recognises when we have done something well, or are proud of our achievements. When children hear us self-praise, it lets them know that it is okay for them to pat themselves on the back or feel proud when they’ve done well.  Hearing a teacher say “I worked hard to plan that lesson and I think it went really well.” or a parent say, “I did a great job of painting the hallway.” helps children learn how to self-evaluate and internalise motivation.

GROWTH MINDSET

Having a growth mindset is a more reliable predictor of success than IQ (Intelligence Quotient), but what is it? And, can it be developed?

What is it?

A Growth Mindset means that you believe that your abilities can be improved; that how good you are at something depends on how much effort you put into it. In other words, it is dependent on your own actions.  On the contrary, a Fixed Mindset is when you believe that you are either good at something or you aren’t; that the ability is inherent in your nature – in other words ’fixed’.

People with a Growth Mindset are more likely to keep trying in the face of adversity, or persevere when faced with a difficult problem.  It is, therefore, easy to see how having a Growth Mindset means you’re more likely to be successful in life.

How Can We Develop a Growth Mindset Using Praise?

We can develop a growth mindset in children by the way we praise them.

Praising the process and the child’s efforts, rather than the end result, is the most effective way that we can do this.  For example, at home, “Ali, you’ve practiced really hard; it’s great you can now ride your bicycle.” However, it’s important we link the praise to the end result, whether they improve or not. For example, at school “Irfan, you worked really hard on that maths problem, let’s think about what else you could try.”

Process praise can really make a difference to children’s beliefs and motivation, so go ahead and try it out!

AND FINALLY…

We hope you have enjoyed our series on how to use praise effectively and have found the information helpful. Praise is a quick and easy tool you can use, both at school and at home.  As we have shown, praise has many benefits including; increased motivation, building self-esteem, and it can also help to change those challenging behaviours that we all face from time to time with our children! Furthermore, it makes us feel better too by focusing on the positive!

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