First off, praise is a good thing and appears to be much more helpful than criticism. Sometimes parents will mention a concern about praising their child for completing tasks that they are expected to do (e.g., brush teeth, pick up toys). As long as you are giving your child the right kind of praise, this needn’t be a concern. Adults are praised for doing things they should be doing anyway because we know praise increases the frequency of a behavior. If you want something to happen more often, use praise.
Types of Praise
When we explore the effects of praise on children, it is important to look at what type of praise is given. Researchers distinguish between three types: person praise, product praise, and process praise. Person praise is focused on the individual’s abilities (e.g., “You’re so smart”). Product praise is centered on the work product (e.g., “That picture you drew is beautiful”). And process praise comments on the child’s effort (e.g., “You worked really hard on that”). Research on these three types has shown that all praise is not equal.
Person praise has been shown to have some detrimental effects. When we praise someone as a person and then he or she fails, it can result in increased amounts of helplessness. Failure can then be interpreted as being bad, stupid, or incompetent. Teachers have been aware of this for several decades and the main idea here is to praise the deed, not the doer.
When to Praise
Consider carefully when you praise your child. Is it only when they succeed? Only when they follow your directions? Look for different opportunities to praise your child. Failure experiences can be an excellent time to praise effort and process. Many times we scold children for being curious about their environment and experimenting with objects around them, but these can be great times to praise the intention and creativity of your child.
Praise and Gender
Research also shows that people differ in how they respond to praise based on their gender. For example, one study tested fourth- and fifth-grade students and found that after receiving person praise and then failing at a task, girls were more likely to show a decrease in motivation. Similarly, other studies have found that women in general are more impacted by evaluative feedback compared to men. Interestingly, boys receive more negative feedback in childhood, but this tends to be for non-intellectual behaviors, such as disorganization or rowdiness. When they do receive praise, almost all of the praise centers around boys’ intellectual abilities. Girls, on the other hand, are more likely to be praised for behavior and effort, not ability. Keeping this in mind can help you be more aware of when and how you give praise.
Giving praise (and constructive criticism) is an important aspect of parenting. If you have questions about this topic, please feel free to contact us at 612-470-4099.