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Parents may think that they are building their children’s confidence and motivation to learn when they praise them. This simply is not always true. Some praise can actually be damaging and turn children away from learning. Think of what the following well-intentioned messages may say to children.

  • You always ace every math test.
  • You’re the best student in your class.
  • You didn’t study and still got an A. You are so smart.

Do these messages really support learning, or can they be counterproductive? What happens if a child does not ace the next math test, is bested by another student or stops studying because he or she thinks it is not necessary. Will the child feel like a failure because he or she is not living up to the praise that you voiced so freely? Will the child possibly disengage from learning? It all depends on the child’s viewpoint of himself or herself. Not succeeding at a task may make children who have been lavishly praised for being smart begin to think they are dumb.

The children who will ultimately succeed are those who believe that they can actually become stronger academically through effort and trying different strategies to handle challenging work. When parents send messages of praise like the following, their children will be strong and able to handle the setbacks that inevitably will occur:

  • We are proud of how you persist when faced with challenging work.
  • You were wise to try several strategies to solve that math problem.
  • We are pleased to see your focus on academics.
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