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May 7, 2018

How to Effectively Affirm Kids

"Good job!"

"Way to go!"

"I'm proud of you!"

"You're so smart!"

We can probably all agree that affirming kids is important.  Some critique that we're way too worried about kids' self-esteem and don't provide realistic feedback and challenge.  And they have a point.

So let's dig deeper.  What do we hope to accomplish when we praise kids?

We want kids to feel confident, persevere, and succeed.  We want them to be internally motivated rather than require external incentives.Research is showing that while we were on the right track with these goals, we missed the mark by focusing on self-esteem.  According to motivational expert Dr. Carol Dweck, focusing solely on self-esteem can lead to a fixed mindset, rather than a growth mindset.  Affirming kids by praising fixed abilities (i.e. intelligence, talent) leads kids to need constant validation.  It also discourages them from trying new challenges.Instead, praise the process.  Affirm their effort, strategy, and perseverance rather than their ability.  This is how to affirm more effectively.  This is how you nurture a growth mindset.

Okay, sounds good.  But, what does this look like in action?

One thing to keep in mind is that you're trying to join in their excitement, creativity, and curiosity.  You're noticing them and validating their experience.  You're showing that you care and that they are capable.  Let's look at some common scenarios:

  • Your daughter is practicing for her upcoming soccer game and expresses that she is worried she won't be able to make a goal.  You stop yourself from reassuring her, "You're so good at soccer. You'll do great."  Instead you validate and encourage: "It's normal to feel worried before a game.  I see how much you enjoy soccer and I love watching you play."
  • Your student  solves a hard math problem, and you stop yourself from saying, "Good job! You're so smart!"  Instead, you say, "That's so exciting! You figured it out!"

This requires a shift in our own mindset as parents, counselors, and educators.  It can be hard enough to provide praise over critique, so don't get discouraged if it takes a while to tweak your praise.  Keep it up!  We can grow into a growth mindset and invite the kids in our lives to join us.

For more information, check out these resources from Dr. Carol Dweck:

TED Talks: