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Parenting: The effects of praise

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Parents want their children to flourish, make good grades, get a good job and eventually be self-sufficient.

"We need to be real. We're in the real world," said parent, Eric Zeno.

There's a variety of methods parents, like Eric Zeno, use, hoping to help their children succeed.

His son, Eric II, is an 8th grader in Leander.

Zeno said, "There ya go, that's better. That's better"

"When they notice I'm working hard, it makes me want to continue working hard," Zeno II said.

But, a recent study suggests how you praise your child could potentially cause more harm than good.

"When you're talking about praising specific behavior, you're talking about reinforcing positive behavior, which we all know works on kids and it works on us too, as adults," said Seanna Crosbie, with the Austin Child Guidance Center, which serves more than 3,200 kids and families each year.

The five year-long study by researchers at the University of Chicago and Stanford found the type of praise children receive affects their attitudes toward challenges later in life.

"I know too many friends that have sugar-coated...you're such a good kid, oh my kid would never do that and they're the first ones that come back," said Kristina Wolter, the mother of a 14-year-old Bowie Freshman, Johnee.

Wolter said, "I don't want to raise a child that feels entitled. Entitled to that job, to that school of her choice. I want her to work hard for everything."

So does Mary Catherine Wilson. She has a 9-year-old named Kaitlyn.

"We try to stick with the positive reinforcements, seems to work best," Wilson said.

According to the study, praise that came with feedback about the child's behavior and choices they made helped them cope better with difficult experiences five years later, compared to compliments that focused more on the child himself.

"Watch your form, watch your form," Zeno II said to his son. "Form is everything. It's that same form, you're doing it."

These courtside compliments are examples of "process praise," where a parent recognizes the child's effort and actions.

They should mold Eric II, to desire challenges in the future.

"It makes me work for the best and do my best in school so that I can play the things I love," Zeno II said.

There is another kind of praise.

Crosbie said, "We really want kids to know that they're valued for who they are and not just simply what they do and how they achieve."

The study refers to it as "person praise," comments like "you're so smart" or "you're so good," which send the message that the child's abilities are fixed and therefore, not easily altered.

"Praise is a very important piece and very important part of parenting, but it's not the only component. There need to be other components there as well," Crosbie said.

Zeno said, "He's straight "A" student this past six weeks, so I reward him for grades. I don't reward for sports.

There is another approach to success to consider. It's from Bob Knight, one of college basketball's most successful coaches. The book is called "The Power of Negative Thinking."

According to Knight, "basketball, like life, is...partly a game of mistakes." You have to be disciplined to achieve victory...and that means "recognizing what has to be done, doing it as well as you can do it...And doing it that way all the time."

Outside, on the court, or inside a boardroom, the power of negative thinking comes into play when you believe "good is the enemy of great" because, according to Knight, if we're too easily satisfied, we lose our edge.

Zeno said, "I'm not really big on you have to have a trophy or a ribbon because it's a lesson in losing."

"I get to celebrate, but I have to think about the next game that's coming up," Zeno said.

"It's how you handle each situation and to make yourself better the next time," said Zeno.

"Parenting is the most difficult job on the planet," said Crosbie. "There's no formula that's gonna give you an exact result."

The study found parents gave boys and girls the same amount of praise, but boys received 24 percent "process praise," while girls received only 10 percent. Researchers say the inequality could have consequences for how girls evaluate their self-esteem and abilities in school.

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