Research led by Elizabeth Gunderson, an assistant professor in the psychology department at Temple University, in Philadelphia suggests that toddlers whose parents typically say things like “You tried really hard on that,” rather than “Wonderful,” may have an advantage five years later when learning new challenges. “Telling kids they’re intelligent rather than praising the positive steps they’re taking to solve a problem as they play can make them question their intelligence when they encounter something that’s harder for them to do,” says Gunderson.

According to Gunderson, parents tend to establish one of two “praise styles” early on – either focusing on the child’s personal characteristics or on what a child is doing. While one parent might say “You’re good at that,” another might say “You kept trying until you found the right puzzle piece.” By focusing on the activity the parent communicates that effort and actions can lead to success, while focusing on characteristics may unintentionally communicate that the child’s ability is fixed.

The study, published in the February edition of Child Development journal researched 53 toddlers and their parents interacting at home. A followup was conducted 5 years later when the children were 7 to 8 years old. In situations where parents were more apt to praise actions, the children reported having more positive attitudes toward challenges, and were better able to find ways to overcome setbacks and believed that they could improve by working hard. Parents can be taught to give more process-oriented praise. Gunderson says, “This research has definitely influenced what I do with my own 1-year-old son.”

Gunderson believes the bottom line for parents is simple. “It’s really about fostering the mindset that challenge and effort are good, and you can always improve if you work hard.” Another professional weighs in on this study – Dr. Robbins. He has long believed that the “self-esteem” movement of overly praising children to make them feel good is not healthy or constructive.     philly inquirer  7/16/13

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