As parents, we are all doing our best to show up for our kids and to help them develop the tools they need for success. We are their caregivers, their cheerleaders, and their mentors. We celebrate them when they accomplish a goal, and we comfort them when they feel defeated.
We always have our kids’ best intentions in mind, but how do we make sure our words and actions deliver the positive impact we intend?
The best advice I’ve heard for praising and encouraging our kids is to adopt and foster a growth mindset. This means focusing on effort rather than natural ability. When kids understand that their current talents and limitations are not fixed, but rather can be improved with hard work and practice, amazing things can happen.
When my five-year-old brings home an art project or a math worksheet from school, I focus on praising her for her effort by saying, “Wow, you must have worked really hard
on that! You should be so proud of yourself!” This type of praise puts kids in the mindset of wanting to work even harder to accomplish more.
I try to avoid saying things like, “Wow, you are so smart!” or “You are always so creative!” While this type of praise seems really positive, it could put her in the fixed mindset – making her hesitant to try more difficult tasks, for fear of performing at a lower level and no longer being seen as smart or creative.
It may feel extreme to analyze every compliment we give our kids, in case it puts too much pressure on them to live up to our expectations. However, consider this: does your child have a good memory, or do they bring up topics that you didn’t even realize they noticed? My daughter thinks deeply about things long after they’ve occurred. She will ask me to explain something she saw or heard days ago, after I’ve already forgotten about it. I don’t ever want her to struggle with something (for example, learning to ride her new bike) and think, “Well, yesterday my mom told me I was so good at riding a bike, but maybe I’m not good anymore since I fell and scraped my knee today.” Instead, I want her to think, “I need to try as hard as I did yesterday, so I can continue to get better.” Telling your child that they are good at something is never a bad thing, but more intentional compliments and praise can go a long way when our kids are developing their internal dialogue.
The concept of a growth mindset in our kids is also so important among siblings. My husband and I have two daughters, ages 2 and 5, and each has certain areas where they exhibit natural ability. Our two-year-old is incredibly coordinated and figured out how to kick and throw a ball at a young age. Our five-year-old has amazing focus and can complete difficult puzzles on her own and build Lego sets by following the instructions without our help. As parents, it can be easy to label each of our kids as athletic, book-smart, artistic, etc., and to give them compliments based on their strengths. However, it’s much more beneficial to give them praise for their hard work, since it promotes an atmosphere of cooperation rather than competition, for mom and dad’s praise.
What we say to and about our kids matters! With proper encouragement and praise for their hard work and effort, our kids will develop a growth mindset and grow up to do amazing things based on where and to what extent they apply their efforts. When we say to our kids, “You can do anything you put your mind to” – and we really mean it – then their inner voice will believe it too.
– Miss Amber
For more on the growth mindset, read Mindset by Carol Dweck