How to motivate your child to study and learn more

motivationJust spending a few seconds praising your child’s abilities to motivate your child can have a dramatic effect – but not in the way most people would expect, including many parenting gurus.

If you want to motivate your child, be sure to focus your praise on away from your child’s abilities. In other words, avoid saying things like “You are super smart” or “You are a genius”. There is a much better way to praise and motivate your child.

Let me explain.

The negative impact of praising abilities and intelligence

Telling our young ones that they are bright and talented is a terrible thing to do, according to research by Claudia Mueller and Carol Dweck from Columbia University.

In the study, involving more than 400 students aged between 10 and 12, children were given a set of logic questions they needed to answer. Irrespective of their actual answers, each child was told they had done well and solved 80 percent of the questions correctly.

One group was also told they must be really bright to get such a great score, while another group did not receive any such praise.

Then the kids in both groups were asked to choose between doing an easier test where they would be pretty much guaranteed to do well or do a harder one where they would probably not do so well but learn more.

Kids that had been praised for their intelligence tended to opt for the easy task, whereas kids who hadn’t received that praise opted mostly to go for the harder task.

It gets worse! The kids were given a third test, at the same level of difficulty as the first test. The children who had been told they were intelligent actually got far lower scores than the others.

Why would praising children’s intelligence have a negative effect on their performance?

Telling a child they are intelligent may make them feel good, but also create a fear of failure, causing them to avoid challenges – because they might look bad if they fail. They have something to “lose”.

Also, they may be less motivated to put the required effort into their work. And we all know, it is repeated practice that makes perfect.

Praising Effort

But there was a third group in the study. This group of children also were told “well done, you solved 80% of the questions correctly.” But in addition, this group of kids were praised for their efforts: “You must have tried really hard to get such a high score”.

These children behaved very differently from the other two groups. When asked if they wanted the easier or the more challenging task, about 90% opted to take the challenging task.
And when the kids in the third group were given the third test, at about the same difficulty as the first one, their scores were significantly better.

So, when you praise your kids for their effort, you encourage your child to try and do their best, regardless of the final outcome. This avoids the fear of failure that children will feel if told they are “brilliant”.

Here’s a link to a brief summary of the study:
Praise for intelligence can undermine children’s motivation and performance.

Motivate your child to study and learn more

Praising effort encourages children (and adults) to push further, and persist in the face of difficulties.

Can you see how this also applies to getting your kids to practice, say, mathematics (with or without MathRider)? If you praise their efforts, they are more likely to persevere or go the extra mile than by telling them how smart they are.

What has been your experience? Have you noticed any difference between praising abilities vs praising effort and how did that motivate your child?

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5 Responses to “How to motivate your child to study and learn more”

  • Don says:

    I really like this artice! Apart from damaging children’s zest for trying challenging tasks, I also feel that telling them “you are brilliant” creates little show-offs.

  • Emma says:

    Don, have you forgotten about the time-tested power of positive assertions?
    “I feel terrific”, “I am brilliant” and “I am super-intelligent”. So how can this not work when we as parents tell this to our children?
    And follow up with some desirable rewards for the right behaviour and results. It’s a very competitive world out there and you only get the bacon if you win.

  • Chris says:

    A person’s “aptitudes” are God-given, and not something that anyone can take credit for. I agree with Don that overly praising these natural talents can lead to arrogant underachievers who can’t understand when they get to the real world, why it is the hard-working “less intelligent” kids who are getting the bacon.

  • Trish says:

    As a primary teacher I agree with Don. I have some students who are super bright and working at a level 2 years above their peers. they can be cocky and tend to ‘cruise’ which I do not think is anything to praise. It is the average kids who work really hard to get the results and the lower level kids who really struggle to get the marks who are much more deserving of praise and encouragement. Lets use praise to reinforce diligence, determination and a good work ethic, all of which are much more valuable assets in the workforce than super intelligence.

  • Dorene says:

    How can I motivate a child with Aspberger’s Syndrome? This does not work on him. He has no desire to learn when it comes to school work, especially Math.

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