Parents Praising Young Children: Focus on the Process

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Good job! Image by davef13138.

Should we be saying, ‘Good job!’ or ‘You worked hard!’ when praising kids? Image by davef13138.

“Nice job!”  “That’s pretty!”  “You are smart!”  Primary caregivers dish out praise in big dollops, but is it helpful? New research demonstrates that the focus of the praise may determine how effective it is at bringing out the best in a child.

Process Praise Versus Person Praise

Dr. Elizabeth A. Gunderson of the University of Chicago and colleagues studied types of praise given by primary caregivers to children at ages one to three.  The researchers then re-examined the interactions five years later.

Their work, funded by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, found that parents tended to use three different types of praise: process praise, person praise or other.

Process praise is praise that focuses on the effort exerted by the child. “Good throw” was coded as process praise. Whereas “people praise” focuses on an intrinsic quality of the child.  “You’re so smart.”  Comments that were coded as “other” included “Nice.” and “There you go.”

Overall, praise accounted for 3.0% of parental interaction with children.

Parental Praise: Consistent Over Time and With Outlook

Caregivers, primarily women, according to Dr. Gunderson, were studied as they interacted with their children in a “naturalistic” setting.  The praise given to the young children was coded as either people or process oriented.  Some interactions included statements of each type.  The children and parents were revisited five years later.  Generally, the type of praise favored by the parent remained constant.

The researchers write, “our finding that praise styles are consistent over time but also vary across parents raises the question of why some parents give more process or person praise than others.”

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