What motivates your child? Praise and positive feedback is the first thing that comes to mind. But have you ever given any thought about how to praise your child?

I know when Hailey was first trying to walk we would encourage her with enthusiasm as she tried and tried and tried to take those first few steps by herself.

Then, once she started walking we got super excited if she took a few steps by herself. She beamed with pride as we praised her.

But the praise became less about effort and more about the result.

It was around this time that I had an interesting conversation with a friend of mine who is an elementary school teacher. He was telling me about a study he had heard about related to students, praise, and the effects of that praise on their outcomes.

The study involved a group of children who were given a task to do. They were divided into 2 groups:

Group 1  – The first group was praised for results. When they performed the task correctly they were applauded with comments like “you’re so smart”, “you did it right”, etc.

Group 2 – The second group was praised for effort. As they performed the task they were complimented with “good work”, “great idea”, “i can tell you put a lot of hard work into this”, etc.

After completing the task, the children were given the option of repeating the same task or moving on to attempt a more challenging task.

The results: The children in Group 1 who were praised for results generally wanted to stay with the same task.

Whereas the children in Group 2 all wanted to move on to the more challenging task.

Why did this happen?

People generally want the praise and approval of others. It’s a natural tendency we have. The children in Group 1 saw the praise tied to the result. When presented with a more challenging task where there was a greater chance of failure they saw a greater risk that they wouldn’t receive the praise they so wanted.

Conversely, the children in Group 2 felt there was no risk of losing the praise because they would still be putting in the same effort. Even if they failed at the actual task they knew their praise and approval was not in jeopardy.

I found this fascinating. It makes me think about how I’m praising Hailey.

I still don’t fully buy into praising for effort alone but I do believe that results aren’t everything. I know I will continue to praise both but maybe with a little more awareness after hearing about this study.

I’ll leave you with another thought that the study didn’t cover but I believe to be the most important related to praise.

My hope for Hailey isn’t that she is praised for effort and then motivated to continue to strive for betterment without fear of failure.

It is my hope that she loves praise but doesn’t need it. I want her to be able to motivate herself and persist even when she’s not getting cheered on by someone else. Or persist in spite of criticism.

That’s what we all want isn’t it? To be self motivated?