The Importance of Being Seen

My old dojo had a teacher who, no matter how many people were in the class, you felt was talking just to you.  She could explain anything and led people to completely understand things they’d been struggling with for months. You would think getting 1:1 instruction from her would be ten times as good, but actually it was exactly the same, which felt much worse, because it became clear that none of the positive body language was in response to what you were doing or saying.  The rhythm was wrong, like an out of sync dub.  And it was really demoralizing.

This is what I think of every time I read the advice to praise children for hard work rather than intelligence.  Most American parents go overboard praising their children’s intelligence.  But if you praise their effort every time, they either learn your praise has no relation to their choices (bad) or you’re training them to ignore their own evaluation of how hard they worked and substitute yours (worse).  The only thing worse than a very smart child who thinks they can coast through life encountering their first real challenge is a very smart child who has been gaslit into thinking they’ve been paddling hard encountering their first real challenge.

3 thoughts on “The Importance of Being Seen

  1. Praise the top 50% of work effort to start with (measuring problems, sure, but do your best) then taper it down a bit over time. This is in accordance with animal training models (see: don’t shoot the dog).

  2. This is what I think of every time I read the advice to praise children for hard work rather than intelligence. Most American parents go overboard praising their children’s intelligence. But if you praise their effort every time, they either learn your praise has no relation to their choices (bad) or you’re training them to ignore their own evaluation of how hard they worked and substitute yours (worse).

    I usually interpret this advice as “praise your child when they work hard,” not “praise your child for working hard whenever they do something good.” Although I guess the latter strategy *is* what’s implied by Dweck’s experiments with praising kids for doing well on math tests that they haven’t prepped for at all.

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