Po Bronson has a fascinating article in NY Magazine about the negative effects of over praise or false praise of children.
Sincerity of praise is also crucial. Just as we can sniff out the true meaning of a backhanded compliment or a disingenuous apology, children, too, scrutinize praise for hidden agendas. Only young childrenâ€”under the age of 7â€”take praise at face value: Older children are just as suspicious of it as adults.
Psychologist Wulf-Uwe Meyer, a pioneer in the field, conducted a series of studies where children watched other students receive praise. According to Meyerâ€™s findings, by the age of 12, children believe that earning praise from a teacher is not a sign you did wellâ€”itâ€™s actually a sign you lack ability and the teacher thinks you need extra encouragement. And teens, Meyer found, discounted praise to such an extent that they believed itâ€™s a teacherâ€™s criticismâ€”not praise at allâ€”that really conveys a positive belief in a studentâ€™s aptitude.
It goes on to explain that praising persistence creates better learning habits than telling someone they’re smart. Constantly telling a child that they’re smart leads to quitting behavior when they come up against challenges.
As I understand it, this is a common problem among kids classified as “Gifted & Talented.” If they don’t immediately get a concept, they just give up. Perhaps this is due to the types of praise they’ve received over their lifetime leading them to believe that they should be able to get things right away, all the time?
Teaching people how to learn is more important than telling them that they’re all knowing.
Malcolm Gladwell offers another perspective on this issue by explaining the difference between geniuses with “ah ha” moments and smart people who stubbornly work on and solve difficult problems.