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How to praise a child

Vaso di girasoli, da Van Gogh, tempera, 5 anni


Learning from your mistakes

It is widespread belief that praising a child is good for his ego, his self-esteem, and that in general, not only with regard to language learning. But beware, there is praise and praise ...! The tendency is often to praise the child for his/her skills, intelligence, readiness, with the aim to encourage him by this means to do better and better. Well, Dr. Carol Dweck and Dr.Claudia Mueller have examined the issue closely and have come to the conclusion that this specific type of praise is rather counterproductive for the child.

The essay, published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (1998), describes the results of six studies of children in various situations with the aim of demonstrate whether, as a result of praise for their intelligence, they achieve the same results of the children praised for their efforts, and this independently of the fact if the results were positive or negative.

Dweck and Mueller argue that the child, feeling praised for his/her intelligence, which he/she perceives as an innate, inseparable part of him/herself, first of all will tend, in the future, to work less hard, thinking that he/she is supported by this force which is inherent to its intelligence, then he/she will be scared to show his/her weaknesses, which would contradict the opinion of smart guy that was previously allocated to him. So the child will do everything to avoid the challenges that might induce him/her into error, threatening to rebut the positive reputation earned effortlessly. The discovery is particularly interesting if applied to languages. You certainly already happened to think: "This person is or is not talented for languages". Viewed in the light of the current study, such a statement would exempt the child from making efforts to learn a language, which should instead get into his/her head in virtue 'of the magical powers" of his/her talent.

And no doubt that the talent exists, but, apparently, the praise should be given more to the efforts made by children to obtain a given result, stressing their commitment, hard work, thanks to which they have reached the result. This article highlights another aspect that could have a negative impact on the child, i.e. the fact that he/she may perceive intelligence as a static element, existing in itself, immutable. Therefore, the aspect of error would not fall within this context, indeed the error would have an impact to the image that the child has built of him/herself. At this point, I would like to dwell for a moment on the issue already dealt with in the post "Always tell the truth": in view of the above it would be even more important to point out the error, if any, and do not pretend that it has not occurred. Indeed, the error is there and it is good to have it because it allows us to learn. The old saying "Practice makes perfect" is not there without a reason. Everyone can make mistakes, let's show our children that we parents can be wrong, that we are committed to achieving results, that nothing falls from the sky.

That's why I think that always telling the truth to our children is the way of success for them, not to give them the illusion, rather to provide them with the tools to overcome the errors. And let's tell them the truth about us, as well: we  parents also make mistakes and learn from our mistakes and being smart means rather being able to learn from our own mistakes. In conclusion, we must weigh our words, because even a "bravo! Well done!" can be harmful .... but we shouldn't panic either, and if a praise runs out of our mouth in the wrong situation, we will surely have done it with love ....!



0 #6 Bettie 2017-05-16 00:56
Glad to be one of several visitors on this amazing
website :D.
0 #5 Giovanna 2012-01-23 09:34
Grazie Estella, mi fa molto piacere che la mia ricerca sia utile agli altri.
0 #4 Estella 2012-01-22 22:41
Cara Giovanna,
il tuo articolo esprime molto bene quello che io sento e vivo direttamente, in particolare con i miei due figli grandi.
Complimenti per il tuo sito!
0 #3 Giovanna 2011-10-10 07:09
Grazie A. per il tuo contributo. Spero che anche nella pratica funzioni come nella teoria.

Per quanto mi riguarda, cerco di applicare questo principio il più spesso possibile con i miei bambini, ovviamente i risultati si vedranno a medio-lungo termine!

Il nostro motto a casa, ripreso da un testo per le scuole elementari (Progetto ABACO, Giunti), è:


A mio figlio piace tanto e gli dà tanto coraggio!
0 #2 A. 2011-10-09 18:09
Anche questo articolo (e lo studio che c'è dietro, di Jason Moser che parte proprio dalle ricerche della Dweck) lo conferma:
0 #1 Daniela 2011-06-09 07:50
Grazie mille Giovanna, per questo utilissimo post. Proprio oggi pensavo a qualche strategia per migliorare l'autostima nei bambini e mi sembra che questo sia un utilissimo spunto di riflessione.

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