The Dangers of Fixed Mindset Praise for Children's Success
The way parents praise their children can have a significant impact on their long-term success and development. According to psychologist Carol Dweck's research described in her book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, praising children for their innate abilities rather than their effort and attitude can foster a damaging fixed mindset. This mindset limits their motivation, resilience and ability to learn.
On the other hand, praising children for their hard work, strategies, focus and improvement promotes a growth mindset. This empowers them to embrace challenges, persist through difficulties and fulfill their potential. As such, parents need to be aware of how even well-intentioned praise can negatively impact their kids if not delivered appropriately.
The Fixed Mindset and Its Risks
According to Dweck, people hold either a fixed mindset or growth mindset about their abilities and intelligence. Those with a fixed mindset believe these qualities are static and unchangeable. They see them as reflecting an innate, fixed amount of potential. As such, fixed mindset individuals care most about looking smart and talented. They become demoralized by setbacks which they see as reflecting badly on their innate abilities.
Conversely, people with a growth mindset view intelligence and abilities as changeable and expandable through effort. They care more about learning, improving and taking on challenges. Setbacks motivate them to increase their efforts and try new strategies. As a result, they are more resilient and likely to reach their potential.
Unfortunately, many well-meaning parents inadvertently foster a fixed mindset in their children through praise focused on extolling their innate intelligence and talents. Though meant to boost self-esteem, such fixed mindset praise teaches children these qualities are static. This makes children afraid of challenges that might reveal flaws or lead to failure. It also makes them lose confidence and motivation if they struggle, hampering development.
How Parents Can Cultivate a Damaging Fixed Mindset
Dweck highlights how even subtle differences in wording can instill fixed vs. growth mindsets. Telling children they are smart, brilliant, gifted etc. sends the message that these traits are fixed. The children then feel they need to keep proving they possess such innate traits. On the other hand, praising effort and strategies promotes awareness these qualities come through work, inspiring children's motivation and learning.
Other examples of fixed mindset praise include:
– Praising innate talent over practice: “You're a natural athlete! You didn’t even have to practice much to make the team!”
– Praising perfect performance instead of progress: “That test was so easy for you – you got 100% with barely any studying!”
– Praising speed and ease instead of focus: “You breezed right through your homework! I bet you found it easy.”
The problem is such praise centers on static traits children feel they need to keep proving. It also does not give them strategies for coping with challenge and setbacks. When they do hit obstacles, children praised this way will question their innate talents instead of looking for solutions.
How Growth Mindset Praise Leads to Greater Success
Fortunately, parents can instead use growth mindset praise to motivate children while building resilience. Dweck explains this means focusing on effort, attitudes, strategies and progress. Growth mindset praise:
– Recognizes hard work and dedication: “I’m so impressed by all the energy you put into this project. You kept at it and it really shows!”
– Praises good strategies: “The way you broke down that math problem into steps was so clever. It’s a good strategy for tough problems.”
– Notes improvement and learns from setbacks: “Look how your time improved since your last race now that you adjusted your pacing strategy!”
– Applauds focus and determination: “I know this homework was challenging, but you stuck with it and kept focused. You should feel proud of yourself.”
– Encourages the process not just perfection: “I loved your creativity in this drawing and how you played with colors. Tell me about the ideas you tried.”
Such praise shows children they can cultivate abilities through effort. Setbacks are part of learning, not signs they lack innate talent. The focus is the joy of achievement through focus, not flawed notions of natural giftedness. In this way, such praise fosters motivation, resilience and growth.
The Research on Praise and Mindsets
Dweck’s work builds on extensive research on praise, mindsets and resiliency. Studies show children praised for effort and improvement are more motivated, cooperative, persistent and successful than those praised for static traits. However, many adults default to empty, flattering praise. One study found 85% of parents praised children’s ability while only 15% praised hard work and strategies.
Other researchers such as Stanford's Carol Midgley found praising effort and improvement led to greater enjoyment, engagement and performance. Such praise also helps children develop positive learning goals focused on growth. On the other hand, praising innate intelligence promotes negative performance goals fixated on validating such gifts.
Additionally, studies by Dweck and others show children praised for intelligence often choose easy tasks where they won't make mistakes. When they do fail, they attribute this to lacking fixed abilities and lose motivation. In contrast, children praised for effort and improvement seek challenges and persist despite obstacles. They see setbacks as indicating to try new strategies, not flaws in innate gifts.
The risks of fixed mindset praise also persist into adulthood. Studies of university students show those with fixed mindsets are more anxious, self-critical and likely to struggle after the rigors of freshman year. They are also less open to improvement strategies such as self-regulation. On the other hand, growth mindsets predict greater college success and higher GPAs. As such, mindset continues to play a key role in achievement throughout life.
Strategies Parents Can Use to Cultivate a Growth Mindset
Parents can help children develop growth mindsets using the following research-based strategies:
Focus on process praise, not outcomes: Applaud effort, problem-solving, focus, persistence and improvement. Don't just praise innate gifts and perfect finished products.
Use growth feedback on setbacks: When children struggle, emphasize using new strategies, consulting others and reviewing errors as learning. Don't indulge self-criticism of innate flaws.
Highlight diverse role models: Praise examples of famous scientists, artists, activists who developed their abilities through dedication. This teaches success comes from effort over inborn gifts.
Embrace growth language: Use phrases like “not yet,” “keep trying,” “you're still learning” to frame abilities as expandable. Avoid absolutes like “I'm just not good at this.”
Model a growth mindset: Openly share your own learning processes and struggles. Show children tenacity pays off in reaching goals.
Children also absorb indirect mindset messages from media, peers and school environments. Parents can counteract this by discussing examples of growth mindset traits in books, shows and news. Additionally, they can encourage schools to praise effort and progress over perceived innate giftedness. With such strategies, parents can do their part to instill lifelong love of challenge and learning.
The Risks of Overpraising Children
While growth mindset praise clearly benefits children, parents should also avoid overpraising every accomplishment. Research shows overpraised children can develop fragile self-esteem dependent on endless validation. They may avoid risks, lack intrinsic motivation and struggle with criticism.
Occasional earned praise remains important for encouragement. But children also need accurate feedback on areas needing improvement. Unconditional praise separates performance from outcomes, undermining real achievement. Parents thus must balance recognition of progress with honest guidance.
Additionally, some concerns exist around overly categorizing children as having rigid mindsets. In certain contexts, focusing on improving innate abilities still promotes healthy striving. Parents should appreciate cognitive orientations depend on the domain and situation. Praising the learning process is beneficial, but children still need realistic awareness of their abilities.
A Nuanced Approach to Mindsets and Motivation
While Dweck's work shows the risks of fixed mindset praise, the growth vs. fixed model offers limited categories. Contemporary research recognizes individuals have a blend of mindsets across contexts. Motivation depends on how children interpret failure in the moment more than blanket labels. Effective praise requires understanding these nuances.
For example, psychologist Jen Gonnerman found children's views fluctuated fluidly between growth and fixed stances when undertaking various tasks. Their motivation related more closely to whether they made growth or fixed attributions in context. She argues motivation stems from appraisals of specific situations, not rigid mindsets.
Likewise, Stanford's David Yeager emphasizes how situational cues shape children's mindsets dynamically. Small messages indicating local growth potential versus static judgments are most impactful for motivation. Yeager also highlights the pivotal role of parents, teachers and coaches. The support or criticism children perceive from these adults powerfully influences their self-concept and motivation.
For parents, the implication is praise should highlight local potential for growth and improvement in each situation. At the same time, parents ideally foster relationships where children feel valued regardless of specific outcomes. Motivation depends on children believing they have the capacity to grow and the support to keep developing without conditional approval.
In conclusion, modern research continues to demonstrate both the risks of fixed mindset praise and the importance of growth mindset strategies. While categorizing individuals as rigidly “fixed