The way you praise your child influences what theories they have about themselves. Stanford professor Carol Dweck has done some very interesting research showing real problems with constantly telling our kids things like “You are so smart!” or “You are a good artist!” The problem is that statements like these make our kids feel that they do well at things because they were born good at things—that that’s just how they are. In other words, they believe that their intelligence and talents are “fixed.” The danger with this type of thinking is that kids may avoid challenges, or give up more easily, or feel bad about themselves when they don’t do well at something right away, deciding that they just aren’t smart (or artistic or athletic or whatever) enough—that they just don’t have what it takes. On the other hand, Dweck discovered that children who are told that they do well because they try hard, or because they use their creativity or talents in interesting ways, become convinced that their intellect and abilities can be developed, and can change with hard work. They believe that they can get smarter and be better with effort, so they’re more likely to work harder at activities and therefore improve. These kids take on more challenges, don’t give up as easily, and see failure as an invitation to try harder or seek out help, and as a result, their self-esteem is more stable. (To learn more, check out Dweck’s book Mindset).
The main point to remember here is that we should be careful about how we praise our children. Instead of saying “You’re so good at baseball,” we can say, “You really concentrated when you were batting, and you just kept swinging until you got a great hit!” Instead of saying, “You are an amazing artist!” we can say, “Tell me about your picture. I could see how much you were enjoying drawing it.”