involved, caring, and competent parent.
When Oscar would do well at school, in sports, or helping others- I was the first to shower him praise. I
wanted him to know that he had a father who was proud, a father who loved him. However, as he has gotten
older, I became increasingly concerned about his responses to what he perceived to be“failure.” When he wasn’t
given enough time to complete a project at school, he would fight to hold back tears. When he wasn’t able to set
a record time in a hockey drill, he would scream, “I did so bad!” Why? As I sought to find the answer, which in today’s age has become a process that combines personal
reflection with a Google search, I came across some research that helped me make sense of my son’s behavior…and…my own behavior.
We live in a “results-driven” world. A world that praises “Championships,” “Breaking records,” “Honor Rolls,” and “Four-star schools.” We are all products of a society that tells us that our worth is solely tied to our results. We, often
times unknowingly, project that on our own children…and in education, on our own students. As a father, I thought I was behaving responsibly by praising my son for his eight-goal games, his undefeated seasons, his straight A’s, and
record-breaking performances. However, what I was doing was setting him up with no coping mechanism for
failure, and for him to feel no pride in work ethic without outcome.
I am quite thankful that my research on this topic led me to Elizabeth Gunderson, a Professor of Psychology at Temple University. She wrote that, “Praise that emphasizes a young child’s efforts, actions, and strategies yields greater persistence and better performance in the long-term than praising a child’s outcomes. Praise that focuses on a
young child’s results yields significantly less persistence and
performance. The kind of praise focused on effort is called 'process praise' and sends the message that effort and actions are the sources of success, leading children to believe they can improve their performance through
Researchers from Temple, Stanford, and the University of Chicago found that the amount of process praise that teachers used in pre-kindergarten to second-grade predicted whether students welcomed new challenges and had
strategies for overcoming failure in later grades. Students of teachers who used person praise, results praise, or general praise did not fare as well. The children who received process praise also had a stronger belief that intelligence and personality can be developed with effort.
Here are some examples of process
You are really trying hard- that builds toughness!
I love that you really took your time when writing that
You are really sticking with this project- you have
fought hard to do well.
Good job re-counting the rabbits; way to check your
I can tell you really listened during my
You really controlled your emotions during that math problem; that was amazing.
Here are some examples of person or results
You are so good at math.
You are such a smart student.
You are awesome- you just broke your record.
Here are some examples of general
You got it.
It is also important that schools and teachers communicate this research to parents in meetings and at conferences. Interestingly, we as parents and teachers also praise boys and girls differently. These same researchers from Temple found that parents of boys, ages 1 to 3, used more process praise than parents of girls at the same age. At age seven
and eight, the boys in the study were more likely to have positive attitudes about academic challenges than girls. Boys also held a higher belief that intelligence could be improved than the girls involved in the study.
These findings indicate that improving the quality of teacher instruction, teacher-student interaction, and early parental praise helps our children develop the belief that their future success is in their own hands…and that’s exactly where it should be.