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RAD and the Crushing Power of Praise

parenting Nov 06, 2022
adult talking to child

Master Manipulator

The principal and the school secretary were digging through the school dumpster! They had already sorted through the entire row of cafeteria trash barrels. My child pitifully sniffled nearby observing the slime covered searchers. After a good hour of watching the show, my brilliant cunning son became bored with his game, reached into his pocket and lifted his ” missing” dental retainer high. ” I found it!” He called out. The trash diggers climbed out and celebrated the miraculous recovery of the treasured item and patted themselves on the back for their dedication, perseverance and efforts above and beyond the call of duty to help a student. 

The problem was, this was the second time in a week my outstanding little actor had pulled the exact same stunt. When he shared the tale the first time he had a huge smirk on his face and told how he had tearfully begged them not to call home to “save him from his family”! How smart does a second grader have to be to manipulate and outsmart the principal of the school? How skilled to pull the same exact stunt twice and be believed both times?!?  I have raised children that tested well into the genius category. My goal is to teach them to use their intelligence for good and not evil or games such as this.


The Destructive Power of Praise

How do we get a child to believe in their abilities and succeed in school and life?

We have been told to do it WRONG!!

Columbia University study found that “Giving kids the label of ‘smart’ is causing underperformance in students”!

Did you get that? We have been told to tell our children over and over how smart they are! The schools have special “self esteem” building programs that tell them the same thing! Teachers are taught to do it! NOW they check it out!?

Carol Dweck Ph.D. Columbia University, in her 10 year study on 400 students, found that with students praised for intelligence who were told: “You must be smart at this”, the majority chose the easier task requiring little to no effort. They chose to “look smart and avoid effort”. Effort created stress from ‘fear of failure’ for those told they were smart!

Students praised for effort were told: “You must have worked really hard.” 90% choose an even more difficult task. They chose to try harder to demonstrate their effort.

In follow up tests, those praised for effort improved scores by 30%. Those praised for being smart dropped scores by 20%!

We need to build our children with our eyes saying ” I believe in you.” not the wrong words. I once made the mistake of telling one of my children his IQ was 145. (100 is average) That was the end of him working in school! ” Why should I learn from the teacher? I am smarter!”, he stated. I had sabotaged his education and could not undo it.

One school improved math grades in 700 students by teaching that: “the brain is a muscle. Giving it a harder workout makes you smarter.”

Dr Roy Baumeister found that: For college students on the verge of failing a class, self-esteem praise caused their grades to sink farther.


Specific Praise Works!

Notre Dame researchers tested praise efficacy on a hockey team. With praise that was very specific to actions they produced a winning hockey team. Specific praise for a job well done works! Chores are a perfect time to build skills and self image.

We have to be HONEST with any praise we use. “You are fantastic!” Or you are a great kid!” said to a child who thinks he’s a “bad kid” will backfire! Judith Brook MD New York University says “ Praise has to be based on a real thing –some skill or talent they have.” Her research found that once children hear praise from someone they interpret as meritless, they discount not just the insincere praise, but sincere praise as well! Bottom line, tell the truth. ” A great job!” Means it was done with no corrections needed. A+ means the spelling, handwriting and answers are correct. 

Praise is powerful when done correctly. Destructive when done wrong. Keep up the good work as you work to heal your challenging child! 

We can make a difference, Nancy


Photo by Ron Lach

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