Praising Kids for Efforts, Not Qualities, May Help Them Succeed

Study finds telling youngsters they're smart, great, wonderful could backfire later

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While Twenge said she thought the researchers did a good job of controlling for outside variables, she noted that it is impossible to measure everything in this type of research, called a "correlational study." She also noted that any time parents are being watched and videotaped, their actions and comments may not reflect what they would be doing when not being observed and recorded. But she said the new study is "a nice complement to previous experimental data."

The study, while not directly related to self-esteem, sheds light on why blindly pouring positive messages to children isn't effective, Twenge said. "Self-esteem in and of itself doesn't lead to good things, such as good grades or preventing bad behavior," she said. "It's better to focus on self-efficacy -- thinking you can do something -- and self-control. This type of praise, focusing on action, points to that."

The bottom line for parents is actually quite simple, study author Gunderson said. "It's really about fostering the mindset that challenge and effort are good, and you can always improve if you work hard."

More information

Learn more about child development from the U.S. National Library of Medicine.

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