“Wow, you’re a really great artist!” “You’re so smart!” “You were born to sing!”
At first glance, you’d think these compliments would serve to motivate children as they complete whatever task they’ve set out to do. And, as far as the short-term is concerned, you’d be right. It’s definitely easier to get something done when you have others reinforcing the notion that you’re completely able to do it.
But what are these statements really praising?
Compare them to the following:
“I like how you used different sized brushes in this painting!” “You figured out how to solve that problem, that was tough!” “Your voice sounds better and better every day!”
The difference is obvious: The first set of compliments simply serves to tell children that they’re “good at” something, while the second set actually praises their hard work and learned skills. Being told you have a gift certainly helps drive children to complete a specific task, but applauding their work ethic will keep them motivated throughout their lives.
Though it may seem counterintuitive, praising a child’s natural talents can actually lead to low self-esteem in the future. The child who’s been told time and time again what a great musician he is will become disheartened when he inevitably meets a peer who is a more accomplished musician than him. The so-called “gifted” child doesn’t take into consideration the fact that his peer may spend countless hours practicing multiple instruments on a nightly basis, but will rather just assume “he’s better than me.”
Discovering that he’s not the best will make this child afraid to try harder. Since he’s always “been good” at playing music, he’s never experienced failure. This unknown entity will ultimately block him from improving his talents any further, and he may end up quitting altogether. Despite having the talent to actually be the best musician around, his sudden lack of self-confidence hinders his ability to work hard to improve, leaving his actual abilities stagnant.
Praising Hard Work
On the other hand, imagine the parents of the other child. It’s likely they consistently praise their son not because he’s a “naturally-born musician,” but because he’s dedicated himself every day to becoming better at each instrument he plays. While he might have been born with a knack for playing music, it’s been instilled in him that talent only gets you so far – it’s your drive to do better that earns you true success.
A child who grows up understanding the value of hard work and dedication won’t shut the door on trying things he’s “not good at.” He knows that practice makes perfect, and the only way to get better at something is to keep at it. Unfortunately, many children, and even adults, don’t understand this concept. So many otherwise intelligent people shrug certain things off by saying they’re “not good at it” (How many times have you heard an adult say they “aren’t a math person”?).
Those who understand the importance of hard work also aren’t afraid of failure. They don’t see failure as a roadblock; rather they see if as a bump in the road on the way to success. These children have been told over and over how amazing it is that they persevered through a difficult situation and came out on top. They also learn from the mistakes they’ve made, rather than let their mistakes define their entire being.
Lastly, those who are constantly driven to do better end up learning more than just enough to “get by.” While naturally-talented children may skate by on their God-given gifts by doing the bare minimum, those who work hard will gain more than just surface-level abilities. By raising the bar each time they reach a certain goal, they’ll continue to use their talents in conjunction with their efforts in order to reach incredible heights.
Featured photo credit: First Kid’s 2012 Christmas Party and Talent Show / First Baptist Nashville via farm9.staticflickr.com