THINK Primary #4 | Praise

PRAISE – Getting it right!

There is a bank of research evidence pointing to the fact that we have to be really careful with how we praise children.

The wrong kind of praise

The wrong kind of praise can be enormously damaging; linked to children giving up, under-performing, cheating, and developing a fixed mindset.

“You’re so clever at…”

“You’re the best at…”

“You make it look so easy…”

When we give praise like this, the message we are sending children is that being clever is what matters, that looking clever (at whatever the cost) is what those around us value most.

A child will think “I can look clever if I copy or cheat, I can look clever if I belittle someone else, and if the task ahead is going to be difficult, I won’t bother trying, because I don’t want to look like I can’t do it.”

If we praise children for doing better than others – “Well done, you were the best!”, our message is that we value beating classmates, when in fact we positively encourage the idea of collaboration.

If we praise children for getting everything right – “Well done, that’s perfect!”, the message we send is that mistakes are bad, when we know that making mistakes is an important part of the learning cycle. If children think we don’t want to see mistakes, they will start to avoid situations where they might make any and so avoid challenges.


Empty praise

Sometimes we want to praise children, because doing so makes us feel good. We like to see the smile on their face when they receive praise. Often, we repeat what we heard our parents say to us; “Good girl”, “Well done”, “That’s great!”

If we’re not careful, we can turn our children into ‘Praise junkies’. They just want to hear these words!

But empty praise like this isn’t worth much. How much more impactful to praise sparingly, but meaningfully?


The right kind of praise

We should aim to praise the effort, perseverance, motivation, strategies, and thinking processes which led to the end result. We should try to discuss errors and mistakes and help children see them as opportunities to improve.

When we want to say, “Well done” try to finish that sentence with something meaningful like …

“… you concentrated so well, look what you’ve managed to achieve!”

“… I really like the way you …”

“… when you took a bit more time, you were really able to …”

“… that’s a good start, but why don’t you have another go. Maybe this time you could …”

“… for really sticking at this. Look what you’ve managed to do!”

“… your picture has so many beautiful colours. Tell me why you chose them”

“… it that you made a mistake. Maybe if you think about why it didn’t work you can learn from it and have another go.”

Making that small change to the way we speak to all children (from the very youngest), can have an enormous effect on the kind of learner they become.


Carol Dweck is Professor of Psychology at Stanford University (known for her hugely influential research work on mindset: