I bumped into a few articles over the years that have suggested praising your children too much can turn them into praise junkies, always seeking external motivation.
This never sounded right to me and I was all “I ain’t buying what your selling!”, continuing to tell Annie everyday how amazing and smart and beautiful I think she is.
Yesterday, however, I came across this Harvard Business Review post that talked about praising children’s efforts instead of their attributes. The author sites a study that showed children praised for their efforts did better after a failure (were willing to try hard again) vs. children praised for their ability. (I must just not be good at this thing.)
The author’s argument is that all abilities are not innate and unchangeable, so it is important to let kids know that their efforts can make a difference. This makes sense to me. I remember always thinking I couldn’t draw, so therefore I was no good at art. Well, guess what? I’m great at artistic things, just not drawing, but I didn’t figure that out until I was well into adulthood. I don’t know where the original belief came from, but it has been there as long as I can remember. And maybe with a few classes I could be decent at drawing too. Who knows! So I’ve seen this limiting reinforcement in action.
Although I’m sure I’ll keep telling Annie how brilliant and beautiful I think she is (changing that behaviour may be beyond me!), I am going to pay more attention and make sure that I also talk about effort, and trying, and failing. Because one thing I know for sure is that humans have an enormous capacity for growth and change, and it is my job to make sure Annie knows that too.