06/26/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

The Significance And Dangers Of Praise

One surprising discovery I made when I was doing the research for my book The Confident Child, was that children often respond negatively to praise. A 5-year-old burst into tears when her grandmother looked at her school workbook and proclained, "It's brilliant!" A 7-year-old kicked and screamed, and then squeezed her newly-made clay figure into a ball when her mother praised it as "beautiful". A 15-year-old boy blushed with fury when his teacher said his English homework was "intelligent and sensitive."

Praise is an important learning tool, but it is a difficult tool to use correctly. Some psychologists warn that praise for overall ability is harmful because it suggests that any good performance is a result of natural ability, with the implication that a poor performance is a result of natural deficiency. Praise for an outcome that emphasizes ability then makes a child reluctant to take on a challenge, which always has the possibility of failure, because a failure signals lack of ability. Failures then threaten one's overall self esteem. So, it is proposed that children are praised for effort, and for specific achievements that are clearly linked to hard work, rather than for ability.

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