The Wrong Kind of Praise: Growth Mindset

Adopting a growth mindset nearly always needs to be a conscious act. This is because, for most of us, it’s all too easy to slip into fixed mindset tendencies, especially when it comes to praising young minds.

Firstly, let’s (very broadly) define the terms ‘growth’ and ‘fixed’ in this context:

Growth mindset – Success is about learning and self-improvement. The more effort that needs to be put into a challenge, the better; we are all on a learning curve.

Fixed mindset – Individual intelligence is determined very early on and cannot be changed. It is better to stick to what you know and succeed, than to try something new and fail.

 How we often praise success:

“You’re so brilliant you got an A without even studying!”

“You learned that so quickly! You’re so smart!”

Notice anything unsupportive about these phrases? If you’re like most parents and teachers then you will probably hear these as positive, esteem-boosting messages. Well this is what the majority of children subconsciously hear:

I’d better stop studying or they won’t think I’m brilliant anymore.

If I don’t learn something quickly, I’m not smart. 


Image Source: William Clarence

But shouldn’t we praise children to help with their self-belief?

It’s true that praise can be incredibly beneficial (not just to children but adults too!) but we need to be careful about what we are praising.

Praising intelligence and talent gives a very short-lived boost which vanishes as soon as the child hits any sort of snag – a low test score for example. If we continue to tell them that success makes them smart, then unfortunately they will conclude that failure is a result of stupidity. This is a prime example of a fixed mindset.

So what is the right kind of praise?


Image Source – WikiMedia

Rather than praising intelligence and raw talent, we need to make a point of praising the growth-oriented process. This means taking an interest in accomplishment through things like revision, persistence and practice. Showing appreciation for effort is a great way of encouraging and reinforcing the growth mindset in our pupils and children.

Here are some examples of growth-oriented praise:

“That homework was so long and involved. I really admire the way you concentrated and finished it.”

“You put so much thought into this essay. It really makes me understand Shakespeare in a new way.”

Notice a difference?


For more on growth mindset, have a read of Do You Have A Growth Mindset?  It’s also worth heading to http://mindsetonline.com/whatisit/about/ or taking a look at Dr Carol Dweck’s fantastic book, Mindset: How You Can Fulfil Your Potential, which forms the basis of this article.

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