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Why You Should Praise Your Children’s Effort But Not Their Innate Qualities

Why You Should Praise Your Children’s Effort But Not Their Innate Qualities

“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?

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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.

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Praising Talent

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.

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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.

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Featured photo credit: First Kid’s 2012 Christmas Party and Talent Show / First Baptist Nashville via farm9.staticflickr.com

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Matt Duczeminski

A passionate writer who shares lifestlye tips on Lifehack

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Last Updated on August 6, 2020

6 Reasons Why You Should Think Before You Speak

6 Reasons Why You Should Think Before You Speak

We’ve all done it. That moment when a series of words slithers from your mouth and the instant regret manifests through blushing and profuse apologies. If you could just think before you speak! It doesn’t have to be like this, and with a bit of practice, it’s actually quite easy to prevent.

“Think twice before you speak, because your words and influence will plant the seed of either success or failure in the mind of another.” – Napolean Hill

Are we speaking the same language?

My mum recently left me a note thanking me for looking after her dog. She’d signed it with “LOL.” In my world, this means “laugh out loud,” and in her world it means “lots of love.” My kids tell me things are “sick” when they’re good, and ”manck” when they’re bad (when I say “bad,” I don’t mean good!). It’s amazing that we manage to communicate at all.

When speaking, we tend to color our language with words and phrases that have become personal to us, things we’ve picked up from our friends, families and even memes from the internet. These colloquialisms become normal, and we expect the listener (or reader) to understand “what we mean.” If you really want the listener to understand your meaning, try to use words and phrases that they might use.

Am I being lazy?

When you’ve been in a relationship for a while, a strange metamorphosis takes place. People tend to become lazier in the way that they communicate with each other, with less thought for the feelings of their partner. There’s no malice intended; we just reach a “comfort zone” and know that our partners “know what we mean.”

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Here’s an exchange from Psychology Today to demonstrate what I mean:

Early in the relationship:

“Honey, I don’t want you to take this wrong, but I’m noticing that your hair is getting a little thin on top. I know guys are sensitive about losing their hair, but I don’t want someone else to embarrass you without your expecting it.”

When the relationship is established:

“Did you know that you’re losing a lot of hair on the back of your head? You’re combing it funny and it doesn’t help. Wear a baseball cap or something if you feel weird about it. Lots of guys get thin on top. It’s no big deal.”

It’s pretty clear which of these statements is more empathetic and more likely to be received well. Recognizing when we do this can be tricky, but with a little practice it becomes easy.

Have I actually got anything to say?

When I was a kid, my gran used to say to me that if I didn’t have anything good to say, I shouldn’t say anything at all. My gran couldn’t stand gossip, so this makes total sense, but you can take this statement a little further and modify it: “If you don’t have anything to say, then don’t say anything at all.”

A lot of the time, people speak to fill “uncomfortable silences,” or because they believe that saying something, anything, is better than staying quiet. It can even be a cause of anxiety for some people.

When somebody else is speaking, listen. Don’t wait to speak. Listen. Actually hear what that person is saying, think about it, and respond if necessary.

Am I painting an accurate picture?

One of the most common forms of miscommunication is the lack of a “referential index,” a type of generalization that fails to refer to specific nouns. As an example, look at these two simple phrases: “Can you pass me that?” and “Pass me that thing over there!”. How often have you said something similar?

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How is the listener supposed to know what you mean? The person that you’re talking to will start to fill in the gaps with something that may very well be completely different to what you mean. You’re thinking “pass me the salt,” but you get passed the pepper. This can be infuriating for the listener, and more importantly, can create a lack of understanding and ultimately produce conflict.

Before you speak, try to label people, places and objects in a way that it is easy for any listeners to understand.

What words am I using?

It’s well known that our use of nouns and verbs (or lack of them) gives an insight into where we grew up, our education, our thoughts and our feelings.

Less well known is that the use of pronouns offers a critical insight into how we emotionally code our sentences. James Pennebaker’s research in the 1990’s concluded that function words are important keys to someone’s psychological state and reveal much more than content words do.

Starting a sentence with “I think…” demonstrates self-focus rather than empathy with the speaker, whereas asking the speaker to elaborate or quantify what they’re saying clearly shows that you’re listening and have respect even if you disagree.

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Is the map really the territory?

Before speaking, we sometimes construct a scenario that makes us act in a way that isn’t necessarily reflective of the actual situation.

A while ago, John promised to help me out in a big way with a project that I was working on. After an initial meeting and some big promises, we put together a plan and set off on its execution. A week or so went by, and I tried to get a hold of John to see how things were going. After voice mails and emails with no reply and general silence, I tried again a week later and still got no response.

I was frustrated and started to get more than a bit vexed. The project obviously meant more to me than it did to him, and I started to construct all manner of crazy scenarios. I finally got through to John and immediately started a mild rant about making promises you can’t keep. He stopped me in my tracks with the news that his brother had died. If I’d have just thought before I spoke…

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