When Encouragement Can Hurt Your Child

EncouragementHere’s another rare foray into neuro-parenting. In How to Praise Your Child, I described research that showed telling your child he/she is smart could actually backfire and have negative effects on performance. It turns out there’s another kind of encouragement that can hurt performance rather than improve it.

Group vs. Individual

New research published in Psychological Science shows that telling a child that some groups perform better than others, like saying, “boys are good at this, so you’ll do great” actually hurts their subsequent performance. Perversely, performance dropped for all children – it didn’t matter if they were in the “better” or “worse” group.

Ayn Rand got it right

So what DO you say to boost performance? Don’t talk to the child about differences in specific groups; instead, say that some individuals do better. The study showed this kind of encouragement didn’t hurt the performance of the kids who received it. (And don’t forget to praise effort, not innate talent!)

More: Who Is Good at This Game? Linking an Activity to a Social Category Undermines Children’s Achievement


This post was written by:

— who has written 985 posts on Neuromarketing.

Roger Dooley writes and speaks about marketing, and in particular the use of neuroscience and behavioral research to make advertising, marketing, and products better. He is the primary author at Neuromarketing, and founder of Dooley Direct LLC, a marketing consultancy. Follow him on Twitter.

Contact the author

Brainfluence: 100 Ways to Persuade and Convince Consumers with Neuromarketing Get 100 amazing brain-based marketing strategies! Brainfluence is recommended for any size business, even startups and nonprofits!
Guy KawasakiRead this book to learn even more ways to change people's hearts, minds, and actions.   — Guy Kawasaki, author of Enchantment and former chief evangelist of Apple
Brainfluence Info


9 responses to "When Encouragement Can Hurt Your Child" — Your Turn


Twitter: MicahChipchase
2. May 2012 at 12:31 pm

Interesting, makes sense though, from a psychology stand point.

This is one of the things I love most about marketing, the lessons also apply to everyday life. Being a better marketer will also make you a better friend/parent/student/boss/entrepreneur ect.


John@PGISelfDirected 3. May 2012 at 9:26 am

I agree. I believe praising the effort is the better thing to do. (I also think praising in public can backfire, too, if overdone.)


Giancarlo Mirmillo 3. May 2012 at 12:21 pm

These arguments are well known since many years by social psychologists.


Alex Badin 3. May 2012 at 1:22 pm

I just read about similar effects of framing in context of our perception of others.
It seems that whe child is compared to others (you are part of this group, so…) S/he is framed that external factors (either favorable or not) are more important than personal efforts. Subsequently motivation to achieve is decreased.


Paul 5. May 2012 at 8:32 pm

I very much agree with John, about the public praise. I think that praising in public actually devalues the praise that you genuinely offer during private, personal talks. And the value of personal discussion is greatest – it’s certainly more real.


Elena Anne
Twitter: Elena__Anne
6. May 2012 at 7:38 am

Yes, I do agree with this. I think it’s because children become pressured especially when they find out that they’re really not good in a certain field that their parents expect them to be good at.


Vicki 7. May 2012 at 2:47 pm

I have found comparing a child’s progress to other groups can have a negative effect. Kind of like pre-labeling them for failure. Never been a big fan, so this was a good re-enforcement of effective ways to praise.


Samuel 7. May 2012 at 5:29 pm

What’s really going in a situation like this? Could telling a kid that “boys are good at this so you’ll do great” call up underlying self-doubt that manifests into poor performance? Or is something entirely different at work here? Interesting to know there’s a flip side to the advice that praise improves performance.


friv 14. May 2012 at 9:57 pm

I agree. I believe praising the effort is the better thing to do. (I also think praising in public can backfire, too, if overdone.)


Leave a Reply