Parent Confident Children

Motivate Kids by Praising Them for Effort Instead of Talent

Here’s one simple thing parents can do to help their children try harder instead of giving up; feel good about themselves; and increase their confidence and self-esteem.

How often do parents praise their children for how smart they are in math, how talented they are in ballet, how they are just naturally good at science… or art… or… you fill in the blank? Parents want their children to feel good about themselves and confident about their abilities and it seems natural that praising them for their talents and abilities would accomplish this. Unfortunately, this type of praise may be having the opposite effect.

In her book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, [NY: Random House, 2006] child development psychologist Carol Dweck concludes that children who are praised for their effort as opposed to their innate abilities routinely try harder and do better. Children praised for innate qualities such as being smart, actually feel insecure about their smarts, get defeated, and give up easier.

Boost Child Confidence and Behavior

In her research, two groups of students were given a test. The first group was praised for their innate ability. They were told things like, “Wow, you guys are really smart.” The second group was praised for their effort. They were told, “Wow, you must have worked really hard at this to do so well.”

Then the two groups were given a second test that was harder than the first. The group that was praised for effort as opposed to talent consistently tried harder and outperformed the other group on the second test.

Child Development: Fixed vs. the Growth Mindset

Dweck explains this by stating that some people have a fixed mindset, meaning that they believe that what they can do is based on what abilities they were born with. Others have a growth mindset, believing that if at first you aren’t good at something you can work at it and get better.(Other research actually confirms the truth of this belief.) According to Dweck, praising children for their innate abilities promotes the development of a fixed mindset, which can actually handicap the child.

Children with a fixed mindset, she says, who believe they excel because they were born smart, actually feel stupid when faced with a difficult assignment. They distrust that they are actually “smart” and feel ill-equipped to handle the work. They feel defeated. These children are constantly seeking reassurance about their smarts, never quite owning it, seeing one bad grade as an indication of a flaw in their abilities.

Those with a growth mindset, on the other hand, consistently perform better because they are prepared to rise to a challenge. They are not defeated by a difficult assignment or a bad grade. To them, it simply indicates an area where more work is needed, not that some fixed characteristic about them is flawed.

Dweck emphasizes how important it is to consistently praise children for their efforts, not for their innate talents, in order to help them develop a growth mindset.

Research Shows that Deliberate Practice Leads to Success

Research by K. Anders Ericsson emphasizes the value of effort in accomplishment. He studied the best of the best in several fields and found that, across disciplines, those who excel above the rest do so not because of their innate ability but because of the time they spend purposefully working to improve themselves to the next level of skill. This is known as deliberate practice.

Changing the way parents praise their children is a simple, relatively easy addition to one’s parenting skills that can help children in such a profound way, well into the future. It is a parenting tip worth heeding.


Handler, Richard. “Flattery Will Get Them Nowhere.” Psychotherapy Networker. July, 2007