Empty praise vs. labelled praise and effects on resilience in kids

Nurture Shock by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman. Have any of you parents read this book?

I discovered it in Gertrude & Alice, that lovely secondhand bookshop in Bondi and the title got my attention straight away. The sub heading also grabbed me, How Everything We Thought We Knew About Parenting Is Wrong. 

The researchers examines praise and how we use praise with our children and it may change your mind about all the praise you’re probably piling onto your child! The authors are psychologists and they have radically changed the way they parent as a result of their findings on the impact of ’empty praise’.

The pivotal research demonstrated that a class of primary school children exposed to empty praise at the half way point of a test, scored a third less compared to the students being praised for effort (labeled praise). Huge stuff …

A lot of praise I hear being used is empty praise.

Empty praise includes using the word clever, good, amazing etc. but there is no activity or effort attached to it.

I’ll give you an example of this. I was in Officeworks buying my usual supplies of paper and printer ink. I heard a mum shout after her 7 year old boy, “Clever boy!”. I looked around and tried to find out what he was doing that was so clever. The only thing I saw him doing was walking down an aisle. He’s 7 years old and he can walk. Yes, that is an achievement but is it clever?

I do regular parenting classes on toddler behaviour and discipline and always do a quick show of hands to assess empty vs labeled praise. Not one parent so far has been using labeled praise.

Once I explain the impact of empty vs labelled praise every parent vows to change this in their parenting.

If you want a child who achieves more in life then it may be prudent to be sparing on the praise front.

When you do use it, try and make it of the effort related variety. Some examples for you …

  • Awesome work Matilda on trying really hard in your maths exam. If you’d like to increase your score you need to revise that little bit more.”
  • “Well done James on putting your toys away”. This tends to get the task repeated. Something that you definitely want with the toy box battle! A high five and eye contact can really cement a desired behaviour and goes a long way to getting it repeated!

I’m writing an ebook on parenting and all these little juicy topics will be making their way into it. It’s exciting stuff, and when developmental psychologists have vowed to change this in their own parenting style then maybe it’s worth a second look.

Some more free toddler articles on my blog below

How to get rid of irritating behaviours


The child’s game (part 2) relationship building with your child

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Nurture Parenting's Karen Faulkner is a baby sleep and toddler expert who brings calm and sleep into families and gives parents their confidence back. Cerris Pty Ltd trading as Nurture Parenting - ABN 42 623 216 384 - Sydney, Australia

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