Everyone knows you’re supposed to praise children for effort, not intelligence. Praising intelligence makes them risk averse and fragile in the face of failure, praising effort makes them harder-working and resilient. How could any caring parent or teacher do anything but change their praise to be 100% efforts-based?
Here are some things that bother me about that framing:
- It’s an absolute, rather than relative to our current position. It’s entirely possible that kids need a mix of both kinds praise, and we’re just swinging the pendulum from too much of one to too much of the other.
- As evidence for this, I present the fact that when East Asian kids despair-quit, they often frame it as “I’m not hard working enough”, which I’m not convinced is any better than “I’m not smart enough”
- Which brings up the important point that the parallel of “you are smart” is not “you must have worked very hard” but “you are so hard working”, so the comparison is not just intelligence vs. effort but innate characteristic vs. conscious choice. I have no problem believing those have very different effects on children.
- What if the child didn’t work hard? They either believe you, in which case they won’t understand what is happening when they are faced with something actually requiring hard work, or they won’t, in which case you’re eroding the child’s trust in you in the name of increasing achievement. Good job science.
- More generally, framing everything as a result of effort is gaslighting above- and below- average children alike. Some children get things faster than other children. Refusing to acknowledge that could easily be interpreted as being smart or dumb is taboo, which is incredibly destructive on many levels.
- One of which is that it denies you and the child information that should inform their schooling. All kids do need to learn to work hard, and that is better achieved by increasing difficulty until they find something they struggle with, rather than insisting they pretend whatever is in front of them is challenging. It’s almost cargo-cult.
- This has the faint whiff of my mom’s ban on coloring books, because they limited creativity. It is true that coloring requires less creativity than drawing, but that very factor makes them better for practicing hand-eye coordination. Given that I’ve always overflowed with creativity but at age 13 got state-funded occupational therapy to make my handwriting legible to myself, I think a little coloring would have been okay. Hell, there’s a trend right now for adults to color because life is hard and coloring is soothing. Not everything needs to be about bringing out a child’s potential.
What I would rather see is success at school de-emphasized, all children exposed to a wide variety of activities so they experience being great and terrible at things, and adults accurately reflect back what they did. Sometimes that will be “you worked really hard”, sometimes it will be “you were really creative” and sometimes that will be “looks like you got that one really quickly.” Curriculum would be adjusted so that all kids experience a range of challenges, without the level of activity that challenges them being given any moral weight.