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An even more important conclusion to draw from Dweck's research is that we have to be very careful about how we praise young people. Dweck quotes research in the USA which shows that 85 per cent of parents think that praise is very important for children's performance and confidence. She warns that this type of praise could undermine intrinsic motivatiion

They are supported in this belief, as we've seen, by the very influential American self-esteem movement. Dweck agrees that 'praise, the chief weapon in their armoury, is a powerful tool'. Dweck also acknowledges that children love being praised for being intelligent and talented but that the benefits are short-lived. Indeed, she argues that 'if praise is not handled properly, it can become a negative force, a kind of drug that, rather than strengthening students, makes them passive and dependent on the opinion of others.'

The problem with praise

Dweck, like Seligman, argues that praise for nothing very much is damaging to children. She argues that children know that if they are given lavish praise for very little it means that nothing very much is expected of them. In other words, unwarranted praise undermines children by communicating low expectations. However, Dweck goes further than Seligman by arguing that praising for high achievement often carries a big risk. As we've seen, her research suggests that when children are praised for how intelligent they are, they become focused on retaining this label rather than on continuing to learn. Dweck argues praise for intelligence often leads children to become more interested in how they are seen by others than in the learning itself. So praising for intelligence, or talent, may seem a positive thing to do but can distort children's attitude to learning and get them dependent on how they are seen by others. In practice this can mean not opting for challenging tasks or trying new things if it might involve failure.

Positive labels

Dweck argues that many professionals working with children have come to realise the danger of labelling children through criticism. (e.g. You are a naughty boy, rather than that was a naughty thing to do.) But her argument is that positive labels such as 'you are very clever' also undermine children in the longer term as it gets them to focus on things (like intelligence) which the praise is unwittingly telling them is not under their control. It also erodes their belief that effort is a good thing. Instead of praising for ability or innate talent, Dweck argues we should praise children for effort, concentration and the effectiveness of the strategies they use.


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