Motivating Children Takes Different Tack

By Vanderkam, Laura R. | The Washington Times (Washington, DC), July 15, 1998 | Go to article overview

Motivating Children Takes Different Tack


Vanderkam, Laura R., The Washington Times (Washington, DC)


Praising children for their intelligence may leave them poorly equipped to cope with failure, two researchers say, while commending children for their effort makes them eager to learn.

Those findings are at odds with the usual belief that praising children for their ability is likely to motivate them. Claudia M. Mueller and Carol S. Dweck, research psychologists at Columbia University, argued in a published report yesterday that calling children gifted or talented without emphasizing effort may have a negative impact on performance.

"Praising children's intelligence, far from boosting their self-esteem, encourages them to embrace self-defeating behaviors, such as worrying about failure and avoiding risks," said Ms. Dweck, who with Miss Mueller studied 412 fifth-graders and published their findings in the American Psychology Association's Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

"However, when children are taught the value of concentrating, strategizing and working hard when dealing with academic challenges, this encourages them to sustain their motivation, performance and self-esteem."

According to Ms. Dweck, the children in the study were first given easy problems from an IQ test and performed well. Some of the children were told, "Wow. That's a really good score. You must be really smart."

Others were told, "Wow. That's a really good score. You must have worked very hard."

Then the children were given a choice between a more challenging test and an easier one. Sixty percent of the intelligence-praised children chose the easy test. Ninety percent of the effort-praised children picked the difficult one.

Next, all the children took a difficult test. The intelligence-praised children were more likely to become frustrated and lose interest, thinking their low scores meant they weren't smart after all.

The group praised for effort thought their poor scores were a matter of not working hard enough and were more likely to take the problems home to solve them. …

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