It’s the Effort that Counts #TeachMeTuesday


A simple idea about praise can be the key to your child’s success


If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.

Apparently this sage advice is more than just a time-worn cliché; it is actually backed by scientific data.

Psychologist Carol Dweck and her team of researchers at Stanford University have discovered that there is a marked difference in students’ academic success based on their way of thinking about themselves.

Who would think they were harming a child by telling them they’re smart?

Children who see themselves as innately smart have what is called a fixed mindset and do not fare as well as children who have a growth mindset who think of effort as the key to learning. Although at first these findings may seem counterintuitive, they make sense once you examine the rationale behind each mindset.

Dweck and her team discovered that children with fixed mindsets are reluctant to take risks or put themselves in situations where they may make mistakes. Consequently they miss out on opportunities for learning in order to save face. “If I am naturally intelligent,” the thinking goes, “what would it mean if I can’t succeed at a task … that I’m not really so smart?” In order to avoid this potentially embarrassing outcome, students with fixed mindsets play it safe by avoiding challenges where they may not be successful.

In comparison, by seeing effort as pivotal to learning, individuals with a growth mindset are more comfortable with taking risks and making mistakes. They realize that these qualities are a crucial part of the learning process. Children with growth mindsets are more resilient as they develop the skills to work through challenges. They do not shy away from the unknown because experience has taught them that hard work and perseverance inevitably pay off.

So how do parents and educators help children develop growth mindsets? One piece of the puzzle sounds straightforward – praise their effort, not their intelligence.

In an experiment, Dweck and her team asked students to complete simple puzzles and then praised them for either their intelligence or effort. Ninety percent of the children who were praised for their effort chose a more challenging task on the second round while those praised for their intelligence stuck with an easier version. The ‘smart’ kids took the easy road to ensure their success. “Praising children for intelligence makes them fear difficulty because they begin to equate failure with stupidity,” concluded Dweck.

Though praising effort over intelligence may sound good in theory, implementing this practice isn’t quite so simple. Who would think they were harming a child by telling them they’re smartAlthough we think it’s important to tell kids how great they are as a way of boosting self-esteem, research illuminates the harmful effects of this type of praise. While it makes kids feel good in the moment, the praise can backfire when difficulties are encountered. Findings suggest that praise should only be given in areas where children have control, such as effort or attitude.

So the next time you are about to offer praise, stop for a moment to consider the nature of your comment. A genuine “you worked really hard” could be the most beneficial praise of all.

Contributed by:

Ellen Kelner photo






Ellen Kelner holds a Master’s Degree in Education and is a resource and math specialist at a private school in downtown Toronto. She is a long time resident of the West Village community.

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