As we address parent-to-child communication, making a concerted effort to use growth mindset language should not be viewed as a temporary solution. Our goal is not to help you pick up a few tricks to be more growth mindset-ish today; it’s to provide you with the tools to construct a future built on a foundation of the growth mindset. Building this foundation takes time and intentional practice.
Understanding Growth-Oriented Feedback: Person Praise versus Process Praise
When it comes to praise and feedback, many parents fall into the same fixed – mindset traps that can ultimately hamper children’s ability to develop growth mindsets. When we say well-meaning things like, “You’re so smart!” we overlook the fact that these words associated with personal attributes may ultimately be damaging. “You’re so smart!” might feel like appropriate praise at the moment, but later, when your child meets with inevitable failure, they may fall to pieces because the words they internalized about themselves — you’re so smart — don’t seem true, after all.
The above is known as person praise. Person praise focuses solely on the personal traits and qualities of the individual.
The problem with person praise is that it sends the message that a child succeeded because of some inherent, inborn quality they possess (in this case, intelligence) rather than the effort they put into the task.
When we use the word “praise,” we are talking about a specific kind of encouragement of effort known as “process praise.” On the other hand, process praise acknowledges effort, strategies, or actions that contributed to the success of a task. It sounds more like this: “You worked really hard at that,” and sends the message that the amount of effort put into the task led to success.
So how does this look at home or school?
Person Praise: “You are so smart at math!”
Process Praise: “Your effort in studying is really evident by your latest test score.”
When you as a parent tie success or failure to effort, strategy, or action, you don’t communicate to your child your vision of them as a whole being, but just on that one thing, right here and right now. In that moment, unrelated to intrinsic qualities and personal traits, your child can better understand the connection between effort and achievement. At that moment, it has nothing to do with being smart or stupid; it has everything to do with perseverance and the process of learning.
Understanding Growth-Oriented Feedback: Vague Praise versus Specific, Process-Oriented Praise
In vague praise, the person is given no specific indication of what was done that had value or meaning to the achievement. Never use the phrase “good job” or “nice work.” On the other hand, specific praise illustrates to your child precisely what was done that resulted in achievement.
Here are some sample feedback statement openers to ensure your feedback is specific and process-oriented:
- I noticed how …
- Look at how much progress you’ve made on …
- I see a difference in this work compared to …
- I admire how hard you have worked on …
- I can see you really enjoyed learning …
- Could it make a difference if you …?
- Have you considered trying a different strategy to …?
- You’re on the right track here but could benefit from …
At One with the Water, we focus on specific, process-oriented praise to ensure our clients understand exactly what we expect and how much they can truly accomplish.
Molly is a member of our creative team, mom of four water-loving babies, and a fierce advocate for CPR training and really early swim instruction.