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

  1. Micah says

    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.

  2. John@PGISelfDirected says

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

  3. Giancarlo Mirmillo says

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

  4. Alex Badin says

    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.

  5. Paul says

    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.

  6. Elena Anne says

    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.

  7. Vicki says

    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.

  8. Samuel says

    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.

  9. friv says

    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

Your email address will not be published.