The trouble with (generic) praise

Years ago, when around the time I first became a Scout leader, someone gave me a bit of advice: don’t give generic praise, because that will be meaningless; praise specific things instead. I took that advice, mostly, and it largely became habit, saying things like “I really like the way you used so much green here” when looking at a painting, say, instead of just “that’s beautiful!”

Today, lnhammer sent me a link to an article that pretty much says the same thing: generic praise is meaningless, and can even hinder performance, making kids think being smart is just something they have or don’t have, rather than something they can work at.

Adults, of course, often believe the same thing of themselves. A few months ago I also saw an article on the fact that success at various arts–music, singing, and such–isn’t so much a matter of innate ability as of how much time one puts into pushing oneself and working at it.

This is all interesting stuff. More and more it’s becoming clear that if you believe ability is innate–either you have it already there or you don’t–it’s easier to get discouraged, because by that thinking the things you can’t do, you’ll never be able to do.

Rather than thinking, okay, I didn’t manage it this time, but I still want to do it; maybe if I dig in and work harder I can get there.

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