We all want to make our children feel good about themselves as learners.

It is worth stopping to think about whether we are sending limiting feedback, albeit with the best intentions.

What we say to our children as they learn will shape the type of learner they become.

As parents, we need to acknowledge the process and effort a child is making (when learning to read, not whether they read words correctly). “We should praise the process of their growth”, according to Professor Carol Dweck: (Stanford University and author of ‘MindSet‘).

How to Develop a Growth Mindset in Your Child by The Reading Mountain

Prof. Dweck and her colleagues recently studied the effects that praise and encouragement have on children’s development.  To summarise, in a study of 400 fifth grade students, kids were broken into two equal groups and given a very simple, verbal, ten question IQ test.

Half of the children were given praise for their intelligence alone (using statements such as “you did a good job” and “you must be really smart …”) while the other half of the group was praised for the efforts (“you did a good job and must have worked extra hard …”)

Both groups were then told they were required to complete another test, but had a choice. They could take a test that will be “a little harder and would be a great opportunity to grow” or they could opt for an “easy test they will do well on”.

The results showed that 67% of the first group, who were praised for being smart, opted for the simpler test while the 92% of the second group, whose efforts were acknowledged, opted for the harder test with the opportunity to grow.

“Children hear ‘You think I am brilliant and talented. That’s why you admire me, that’s why you value me. I better not do anything that will disprove this evaluation’…”

– Prof. Carol Dweck

As a result, they enter a fixed mindset, play it safe and limit the growth of their talents.

However, when focusing on the strategies the children use by acknowledging the way they stretch themselves and take on harder tasks, the intense practice teaches the child that it is a process of growth.

A father and a young boy reading a book together.

As a result, the child is not concerned with making a mistake rather, they believe “If I don’t try harder things and stick to them, I’m not going to grow”.

The study measured the way both groups tackled the next test, an impossibly harder test.

Of the two groups, the second group seemed to enjoy the challenge, worked harder at trying and spent more time doing so while the first group (praised for being really smart) became frustrated and gave up easily.

A third test retested the same children with the same initial (easy) test. The first “praised for intelligence” group did worse, with an average drop of 20% in their scores.

The “praised for effort” group did significantly better, with an increased average of almost 30%.

So, what will we do now, as parents and carers, to support our kids?

When we consider the effects of what we say to our children, will we be mindful of the importance of developing a “Growth Mindset”?

How can you encourage and model your own risk-taking, as a part of your own learning, by highlighting chances for your child to tackle challenges in a positive way?

Promote “going out on a limb” as an exciting opportunity to truly learn and grow. Perhaps now, you might notice yourself saying “Wow- you are so clever at… good job!”

Try flipping the positivity around to supporting your child with “I really noticed how you didn’t know how to do it but still had a try at… or, I really liked the way you tried so hard at… you really challenged yourself.”

This will make a world of difference to the way your child views themselves as an active learner.

For more insight on the “Perils and Promises of Praise” researched by Carol Dweck, (2007) here is food for thought when supporting and nurturing struggling learners.


Susan Spelic

Experienced Educator | Reading Advocate | Author | Director


Source: A Study on Praise and Mindsets


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