For the study, published Feb. 12 in the journal Child Development, the researchers videotaped 53 toddlers and their parents interacting at home for 90 minutes. The parents were told that they were participating in a study of child language development, to avoid having them focus on what they were specifically saying to their children.
From the tapes, instances in which parents praise their children were analyzed by whether they emphasized strategies, effort and action or positive qualities of the child. The researchers noted factors such as race, ethnicity and income level of the parents to help ensure the study results were not affected by that data. They did not assess, or control for, the child's level of intelligence.
Then, five years later, when the children were about 7 to 8 years old, the researchers followed up with the same families, assessing whether the children seemed to prefer easy or challenging tasks, and if they were easily frustrated when they hit a stumbling block.
In situations in which parents tended to praise actions more than a child's characteristics, the children reported having more positive attitudes toward challenges, were better able to come up with ways to overcome setbacks and believed that they could improve with hard work. The study also found that the total amount of praise did not affect the children's responses.
The researchers discovered a gender difference related to the praise style of parents. Although boys and girls received about the same amount of praise overall, boys tended to get more process praise than did girls. Five years later, boys on average were more comfortable facing intellectual challenges and were more likely to think they could become smarter through hard work than did girls.
Jean Twenge, a professor of psychology at San Diego State University, said the study helps make the distinction parents need bet
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