Parenting With Integrity

I was reading an article in Scientific American Mind about how to raise a successful child, and it was interesting. What the article said, basically, is that if you're going to praise your child, make sure you praise their effort, their care, their concentration, and other things that are within the child's voluntary control.

In an effort to build a child's self-esteem, one temptation parents have is to praise intrinsic qualities of the child, like their talent, their uniqueness, their intelligence, or their good looks. All of these are passive qualities. No amount of effort made those qualities appear.

Praising passive qualities like that produces someone who thinks he's special but who doesn't live up to his potential. Why?

Think about the difference between praising a child for his effort when he succeeded with something, versus praising his natural ability. Let's say the child has a natural musical talent. And he put in a lot of time and effort practicing, and then at a recital, he played very well. His performance was really exceptional.

Part of the reason he played well was his natural talent. But a very important reason he played well was: He put in the effort, he put in the work, he persisted when it was difficult, he spent time practicing when there were more enjoyable things he could have been doing.

As a praiser, where will you put his attention (when praising his performance at the recital)? Do you want him to be aware that he did well because he is just naturally talented? Do you want him to be aware of the talent he was born with?

Or would you rather he was aware of his voluntary choices and the rewards of those choices? Do you want him to be aware that he chose again and again, day after day, to put in the time and effort to be really good?

Imagine two different boys, each with the same amount of talent, but praised differently. As adults, one will assume he is naturally talented and he will always succeed at everything he tries. The other will assume if he works hard enough, he will succeed.

Who is more likely to live up to his potential? The one who is aware that effort makes a big difference.

Who will be more likely to be laid out with depression when things don't go well? The one who is relying on his inborn talent.

I don't think this principle and its consequences only apply to parents and their children. I think it applies equally well to spouses with each other, and even to me talking to myself. Shifting the focus to the effort it takes to do something well will help us do things well.

Adam Khan is the author of Self-Reliance, Translated and Principles For Personal Growth. Follow his podcast, The Adam Bomb.

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