After reading Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman’s thought-provoking article about the power and peril of praising kids, I was eager to know—how should I be praising the kids I tutor? I was totally pumped to find a series of excellent posts on her and Po’s blog which offer specific tips on how to praise kids.
Here’s a summary.
1. Don’t offer global statements. For example, if a kid makes a vase, instead of saying, “you’re such a talented artist!”, compliment the making of the vase.
2. Be sincere.
3. Don’t use empty praise. (Once you do, your credibility is gone.)
4. Scale back the amount of praise. “Instead of saying how great something is, just a pat-on-the-back and it’s over, start a conversation with the child about her work. ‘Look how you used the color red instead of green for the grass. Tell me about why you did that.’ ”
5. Be specific. Instead of, “you’re a great writer,” say something like, “I like the way you introduced his character in your story—it’s very clear that he’s who the story’s about.”
6. Praise the process. Example: “It was a good idea to finish reading the chapter before playing video games, instead of stopping in the middle.” “I noticed you paid attention to the coach through the whole game.” But don’t praise only effort—also praise strategies, decisions, and other aspects of the student’s approach.
7. Don’t connect praise with promises of future success. Don’t say, “…and I’m sure you’ll do well.” It’s too uncertain.
8. Don’t confuse praise with encouragement. “When a kid gets stuck, don’t say, “You’re smart; I know you can do this.” “Rather than B.S.ing the kid with an empty attempt at boosting his self-esteem, the better thing to have said is, ‘Honey, I know it seems hard, but we’ll work on it together. I think if you work hard, you can get this,’ or ‘Just do what you can, and if you’re stuck, we’ll figure out where you got lost,’ or even just, ‘You can do it.’”
9. Timing is everything. “Don’t interrupt a kid who’s working really hard to tell him, ‘You’re working really hard.’” Praising a kid can ruin their concentration and redirect their focus away from their task to worrying about what you think of them. “Hold your applause to the very end.”
10. Avoid praising in public.
11. Don’t praise to avoid giving criticism or addressing failure.
12. Don’t praise underserved success.
13. Know your praise audience. While “a younger child takes your praise at face value… by the time a kid’s a teenager, no praise at all—just straight unadorned feedback—may be more effective than actual words of praise.”
14. Avoid praise inflation.
15. The praise uber-tip: be honest.
Ashley’s original posts explain the reasoning behind each tip in glorious detail!