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In Praise of Praise: The Right Words Can Motivate Your Child

 By Ann K. Dolin, M.Ed.

is a powerful tool, especially when it comes to homework. Research
shows that by simply praising effort rather than intelligence, kids
will develop greater motivation to keep trying, even when the going
gets tough.

Carol Dweck conducted a landmark study on the effects of praise on 400
fifth graders. One at a time, the children were given a fairly easy,
non-verbal IQ test. After randomly dividing the children, some were
praised for their intelligence ("You must be smart at this") and the
others were praised for their effort ("You must have worked really
hard"). Remarkably, in a second round of testing, the children who had
been praised for effort improved on their first score by about 30
percent. They did this by working diligently on each problem even as
they became increasingly more difficult. They became very involved in
solving each problem, trying every possible solution. But those who
were told they were smart did worse. Their scores declined by 20
percent. These children did not keep trying when the problems became
harder. Instead they gave up at the first sign of difficulty, not
wanting to risk appearance of not being smart. Dweck stated, "Simply
emphasizing effort gives a child a variable they can control. They come
to see themselves as in control of their own success." 

affects homework because kids who feel in control are more likely to
exert greater effort to get their work done well. They are more likely
to persist in the face of difficulty.

other studies have found that specific praise is far superior to
non-specific overtures. When words are too general, children discount
their parents’ good intentions altogether, not feeling that their words
are sincere. Given that praise needs to be specific and focused on
effort, here’s how to make the transformation in your home:
















last thought about praise — use it in a 2:1 ratio. For every
suggestion for improvement, start with praise and end with praise.
Let’s say your son brings you his spelling assignment and there are
clearly a few mistakes.















recognizing signs of good work, no matter how small they may be, is
important. If you want your child to persevere and demonstrate good
effort, you must acknowledge the good behavior when it occurs. By doing
so, your child is much more likely to repeat it. In reality, however,
you are going to need to correct your child from time to time. This is
best done using the "P-N-P Sandwich" approach, or
Positive-Negative-Positive. Begin with a positive statement, follow
with constructive criticism, and end with another positive comment.
Take a look at the following examples:
















Keep in mind that your words will make a major impact on your child’s
behavior, but this strategy will only work if you stick with it. I’ve
worked with some parents of students in my tutoring practice who say
"I’ve tried to praise, but it doesn’t really work." The reason they
experienced an impasse was because they didn’t stay the course. They
tried it for a week, failed to see significant results, and then went
back to their old ways. It truly does take 21 days to change a habit.
If you stay with the strategies outlined here for 21 days, praise will
begin to be part of the natural way you interact with your child and
change will occur.


Ann K. Dolin, M.Ed., is the founder and president of Educational
Connections, Inc., a comprehensive provider of educational services in
Fairfax, VA and Bethesda, MD. In her new book, Homework Made Simple: Tips, Tools and Solutions for Stress-Free Homework, Dolin offers proven solutions to help the six key types of students who struggle with homework. Learn more at anndolin.com or ectutoring.com.

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