The Stanford professor who pioneered praising kids for effort says we’ve totally missed the point

Reams of research show that kids who are praised for being smart fixate on performance, shying away from taking risks and meeting potential failure. Kids who are praised for their efforts try harder and persist with tasks longer. These “effort” kids have a “growth mindset” marked by resilience and a thirst for mastery; the “smart” ones have a “fixed mindset” believing intelligence to be innate and not malleable.

But now, Carol Dweck, the Stanford professor of psychology who spent 40 years researching, introducing and explaining the growth mindset, is calling a big timeout.

It seems the growth mindset has run amok. Kids are being offered empty praise for just trying. Effort itself has become praise-worthy without the goal it was meant to unleash: learning. Parents tell her that they have a growth mindset, but then they react with anxiety or false affect to a child’s struggle or setback. “They need a learning reaction – ‘what did you do?’, ‘what can we do next?’” Dweck says. – Quartz

“A for Effort” always seemed… well dumb to me. This research-based article does a good job of describing why that is. I do wish they provided more examples of what to say and what not to say, partially because compliments in general don’t come naturally to me. Often when people give me compliments I get confused because it seems like they’re stating facts with a smile, and I’m not sure what I’m supposed to do with that.

Teachers used to say things like:

  • Great job!
  • You got an A.

Um… so what? I mean even as a kid I didn’t know what to do with that? So some arbitrary person made an arbitrary test about arbitrary data, and I was able to hit an arbitrary milestone?

The fact of the matter is I was always good at math and systems, so I could usually figure out what arbitrary answer people wanted.

So to hear I did “good” at it really didn’t mean anything. Now that I’m older I still don’t fully understand compliments.

How can I learn/grow from it? What am I supposed to say back?

What IS helpful is feedback on what’s *effective*. So when I hear “Great talk” I process it as “that topic and delivery method was effective for a subset of my audience”. And when I hear a lot of it I think “This was effective, what negative comments are in there as places I can improve”.

It makes sense that this “Growth” mindset is a learned behavior, and it’s definitely something I want to consciously teach to my kids.

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