How to give helpful praise instead of harmful praisesteemCreated with Sketch.

in life •  2 years ago


We have praised our friends, colleagues and children before in the hopes of encouraging them, recognizing their achievements, or helping them build self-confidence. But did you know that praise is a double-edged sword? Especially in Western societies where praise is doled out like candy to children, it's important to differentiate between helpful praise and harmful praise.

Different types of praise

Below, I'll give a brief introduction and examples of the different types of praise:

Person-based praise - this is praise that focuses on displays of ability or character.
"Wow, you are so smart!"
"You are such a good boy!"

Performance-based praise - this is praise for a person's performance on something. It focuses on outcome.
"Good job, you're the top student in your grade!"
"Congratulations for winning the basketball game!"

Process-based praise - this is praise based on a how a person goes about doing something. It focuses on effort.
"I see you are putting a lot of effort into learning new vocabulary words."
"I see you are trying to take deep breaths to calm yourself down."

At this point, can you guess which type of praise is helpful and which is harmful?

The effects of praise

We often give praise in an effort to boost someone's confidence, encourage them to work harder, or just simply to make them feel good about themselves. However, Stanford Professor Carol Dweck found that praising someone with an emphasis on outcome or ability gives them a short-term boost of confidence, but ends up harming their long-term potential.

Her research found that children praised for abilities and outcomes developed a fixed mindset - that is, either you are smart or good at something, or you're not. In contrast, the children praised for effort developed a growth mindset - that is, you can acquire skills, knowledge, competence through effort. These children believe that people are not born smart but become smart through hard work.

When asked whether they wanted to work on an easy or a challenging task, children praised for intelligence chose the easy task. They didn't want to take the risk of hurting their "smart image." If they were so smart, they reasoned that they must not be so smart if they had to struggle or work hard on something. In contrast, children who had just being praised for working hard chose the more challenging task. They wanted to seize the opportunity to learn more!

More interesting is that when both groups of children were asked to first work on a challenging task and then put back to work on an easy task, those praised earlier for their intelligence did worse as a group. The effect of praise like "you're smart" actually backfired when these kids were challenged, and their loss of confidence and self-esteem actually made them do worse!

The study also found that the 40% of the children praised for intelligence lied about their test results in order to protect their self-image while only 10% of the children praised for effort lied.

How to give helpful praise

Remember, praise the process, not the person or the performace.

👎"You're such a smart boy."
👍"I see you did well on your test. You must have put in a lot of effort to learn those words!"

👎"You're such a good boy."
👍"I really appreciate your help around the house!"

👎"Congratulations for winning the basketball game!"
👍"Wow, your team did great! You guys must have practiced a lot!"

Vaccination for immunity to harmful praise

Given how prevalent harmful praise is in our society, I try to give my kids a little "vaccination" for harmful praise. I tell them when someone tells them they are smart, what they really mean is you must have spent a lot of effort learning something. I know, it's paranoid, but I really don't want my kids to fear failure or worry about keeping up some kind of "smart or cool" image at the expense of real learning.

In fact, I try to "praise" their failures. One time, my son scored 35% on a practice test. He was pretty disappointed, so I said, "Good, now we know what you don't know." A few days later, he did a retest... and scored 85%! You can probably guess whether I said "You're such a smart boy!" or "Wow, you must have worked really hard!"



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I love this topic!

When I first learned about Carol Dweck, and her work on Growth vs. Fixed Mindset, it was a real game changer for me.

I consider myself to be quite smart, of my 3 siblings I was always the most 'intellectual' when growing up. Yet I also felt very attached to that persona/identity. I wanted confirmation that I was smart, and was afraid of falling of my pedestal. I didn't consciously think of it this way of course, but learning about the Growth Mindset opened my eyes.

Since, I have really embraced this concept. Just the other day, I was Skyping with my mom and I told her about Steemit. And she literally said: "Yeah, you can do that because you are smart."

And I was like: "You know what? That is just simply not true! You can do this too, anybody can. I don't have some innate Messi kind of talent. As a matter of fact, I meet lots of people that didn't have a high education that are killing it financially. And at the same time I know lots of people that were the smartest kids in the room, yet now their life's average at best. Why is that?"

The real difference maker is taking consistent action. And adopting a growth mindset makes it so much easier to keep taking action, even when you fail. Because you can simply say to yourself: this is part of the learning process, it simply means I have to try harder next time. Instead of telling yourself: I failed, so I – as a person – must be a failure. Which would be a fixed mindset comment.

I think it's great that you are aware of this concept and using it to educate your kids! Fixed mindset feedback is so prevalent, we want to tell our kids they are great, instead of just did great. I just saw my sister do it with her kids, the other day.

I wish I was brought up with these concepts in the back of my parents' mind. I can't really complain, I had a great childhood. But still, we can always learn and improve. That's what growth mindset is all about.

I apply it here on Steemit. I'm detaching from any results this year. Just want to learn a lot about how the platform works, and engage/interact a lot. And if a post doesn't make any money, it doesn't mean I'm a failure, or I suck. It just means that (1) I'm still a minnow, and my posts simply don't get enough exposure, and (2) maybe there is something that I can learn from that post, something I could do better next time.

It's funny, today I was making a list of things that I could post about and Growth Mindset is one of the things I was considering. Thanks for posting about this! I'll wait a bit with writing something about this myself now, but will probably still come back to it one day...



Thanks for sharing your story! It's great you are trying to help your mom move from fixed mindset to growth mindset! What I like about a growth mindset is that it is literally never too late to learn and grow! You just need to be willing to try something and like you said, be willing to "fail."

Although I try to put effort into writing posts that might be useful to the Steemit community, they also don't get much eyeballs. I try not to get bogged down by that - I just think, hey, at least a few people read this post, and maybe it was helpful to them! I think it was my brother who told me that if we want to help make the world a better place, we must start with taking small actions instead of waiting to do something grand.


You know what a friend of mine said to me recently?

"You just keep doing what you're doing. You're on the right track. Keep going for it, don't stop, and you will gain momentum. All of sudden things will start to happen, mark my words"

He wasn't referring to Steemit, but to a business venture I've been working on for months, and for a long time it was hardly producing any revenue. But his advice pushed me to keep going, and the last month I've seen a nice increase in revenue.

The same advice applies to Steemit. I think we both believe in this platform, and enjoy posting HQ content. That means we bring the right attitude to the platform. Combine that with a growth mindset, and I'm sure financial rewards will come, eventually. But if that were our only driver, we'd probably give up soon.

I really enjoy sharing and contributing on this platform. The prospect of making some money down the road (perhaps next year) is an added bonus. But even if that weren't to happen, I'd still have a good time here.

Coming back to your emoji post: I just found out there's an Emoji Poetry Challenge!

Here's my entry: A Lion 🦁 , Robot 🤖 and Clown 🤡 Strolled 🚶 Through Town 🌆 ...

I encourage you to also participate, I had a lot of fun coming up with mine!


Hey @sizzlingmonkeys,

I would never promote my own posts in comments. But we have been going back and forth a bit with our comments.

Perhaps you would like to know a bit more about who you are communicating with?

If you do: I just published my Intro post. It's a special one for me, I really put a lot of thought and effort into it.

Thanks so much for the insight @sizzlingmonkeys!!
I often make the mistake with my son and praise him instead of his work. We really have to "think before we speak". I have started praising his efforts instead but now and then I tell him how awesome he is...
Some people might say that it does them no harm, but unconsciously it makes a world of difference.
Thanks for the great reminder :)


Nice to see there are other parents around on Steemit! I try really hard to give my kids helpful praise, but I also slip into toxic praise every now and then, and I am sure I even give toxic criticism to boot sometimes!

It's hard to be a great parent, but I guess we just need to be good enough and the kids will appreciate the effort. Thanks for leaving a comment!


Yip, great to see other parents here.
In the end we're all human and will make mistakes, but we can definitely try our hardest :)

This topic is indeed very interesting because even though we have science backing up the process-praise model, society is still most often choosing another feedback path.

We live in a society where skills and results are praised while study and hard work is often times ignored.

It is most profoundly seen on talent shows on television where judges will evaluate your performance showering you in praises. And to what effect?

The "see me" culture is ugly (just my opinion).

Then we have the issues with extroverted vs. introverted where we clearly favor extroversion these days (talent shows as a great example again).

When we only focus on results, we simultaneously encourages the pursuit of quick fixes. The learning phase is given too little emphasis.



Yes, I agree that popular culture is not the most healthy culture. I'm also grateful that we have so many wonderful researchers doing such interesting studies these days. It also helps that their findings are published in easy-to-read books and articles.

For anyone who is interested in learning more about the effect of praise on developing a fixed or growth mindset, I highly recommend Carol Dweck's book Mindset.

Hey, thanks for the article. Very detailed! I think it also depends on the person & his/her personality. For example, in high scool I was always noticed for doing good in programming classes but this didn t make me arogant or anything. It pushed me to work harder because the expectations were always high. There are the obvious cases, in which the dude gets overconfident and doesn't perform anymore. So yeah, I consider praise to be good but only in some cases, as you mentioned.

Have a good day! x


Hi razvan-stanciu, you made a good point. I think the effects of praise might be sensitive to cultural context. For example, in many Asian cultures, praise is very rare, and even a comment that is half-praise is highly treasured and deeply motivating. Carol Dweck's study was conducted in the US, and I think in American culture, praise is often too extravagantly lavished on children - to the point the they become worthless or worse, have the opposite effect. The is especially the case when the praise is general (great job!) instead of specific (wow, I like how succinct your code is!).

I like how all it takes is a modification of the language we use to affect a change that could be so beneficial to a young person. I'm definitely guilty of "harmful" praise at times but I'd never really noticed it. Thansk for the thoughtful article.

Some people often praise others just because of that feeling of superiority when you measure someones skills.
But yea, your words make a lot of sense. Enjoyed reading!)


Glad you enjoyed the post!

You write really well I appreciate the time you put into this well written article, good job


Thanks for the helpful praise!👍 It took me several days to write this post!

I had to do a retake to "get" your strikeout. LOL!

I pay no attention whatever to anybody's praise or blame. I simply follow my own feelings.

You know this is a very interesting topic. So many people get it wrong we should pay attention to it more seriously for sure :)

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Sometimes a person needs encouragement so we have to praise their work so that they get to develop more on what they have a goal for.

Both my children know the drill - wax on wax off - if you practise you can learn. But I think that praise is used for so many other reasons than raising healthy, hard-working and socially apt children.

Mostly praise is used as social signals - to show love, to give confidence, to flatter (Steemit can be rather bad in that direction) - but first and foremost it is part of our hierarchical way of classifying each other. So telling children that they are beautiful, clever and talented is often a way of expressing that they in a rather fictitious way are loved, part of a friendly herd, and hoping that by clever word-magic they will be an important part of the pack.