in Teaching

How To Talk to Your Kids

While this research says talking more and more encouragingly to your kids increases their IQ, this research says (I believe) when kids get to be about 5 years old then focused praise is better.

  1. Hi,

    I co-wrote the piece with Po Bronson, and I saw your post.  I’m sorry to say that you misunderstood the section of our piece that you referred to.

    Generalized praise can negatively affect even younger children. As we mentioned earlier in the piece, the “praise” effect has been even in preschool-aged children.

    The later comment regarding young children’s being more trusting of praise (while older children view it with an increasingly jaundiced eye) means that rather suggesting it’s beneficial to praise a younger child with a general, “You’re smart,” the opposite is true: it could be potentially be even more of a problem when the child is younger than when he’s older. That’s because the younger child believes that entirely, and thus if he fails, he will believe that he’s failed to live up to the label / identity you’ve given him. Whereas an older kid might dismiss it the comment as being insincere praise.

    Moreover, it’s probably even more important to give a specific comment to a younger child because they take you literally: they have less of an ability to discern what they did to trigger your praise.

    Regarding the NYT research that you linked to, I don’t think that’s inconsistent for a couple reasons. The NYT article, which I’d seen before, says parents who spoke praise also spoke a lot of other words, and it doesn’t say what types of praise were being used.

    More importantly, our piece is not about IQ development, but the development of persistence – the ability to work hard through difficulty. Dweck’s research shows that children with the highest IQs have an even bigger reaction to praise – collapsing after failure – if they have a high IQ, which she attributes to those children being so very used to be praised for their intelligence.

    I hope that clarifies things for you.

    Ashley Merryman

  2. OK, It’s years later and I now have two kids, and I still have trouble deciphering what Ashley wrote. Parents need simple rules we can follow because there’s no time to be academic in the heat of the moment of a busy day. Let me try to express the above praise-related behavior as a rule:
    RULE: Specific praise is better than general praise of the child, especially for younger children.

    Also relevant is from which we could say:
    RULE: Praise for making a good effort rather than being smart.

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