Why Your Praise Might Hurt More than Help (and How To Fix It)
Feb 18, 2019 | By: Jennifer Lebo
When it comes to your daughter, you, Mom, know her better than anyone.
You’ve been caring for her since Day 1. You know what food she loves and which she hates, you know what sets her off, and you what sets her on fire. You are truly her biggest fan.
So when it comes to building her confidence, and to pouring words of encouragement and praise into her, no one does it better than you.
Or maybe not.
Now hear me out, before you start yelling at me. I’m not saying you don’t know your girl, and I’m CERTAINLY not saying you don’t love her with a fierceness that no one on this planet can match.
What I’m saying is that as moms, we might not be praising our girls the way we hope we are. We might think we’re building our daughters up, but in reality we might be doing more damage.
THE TWO TYPES OF PRAISES
I’m betting we all know better than to focus all of our praise and approval on our daughters’ looks. Of course, we don’t want them to grow up thinking that they are only as valuable as the size of their jeans or their perfect complexions.
We know better, so we emphasize her talents. For some, that might be an exceptional eye for fashion. Another might be a math wiz, while yet another might be a scoring machine on the basketball court. Whatever it is, we highlight these traits rather than just her body or her beauty, because we want to empower her completely.
But this is where we are going wrong.
PERSON VS PROCESS PRAISE
What I described above is known as “person praise”, when we tell our girls how smart they are, or how athletic or artistic. “Person praise” focuses on talent and ability, and it can be damaging because it fosters a fixed mindset, where girls feel they were born with certain traits and cannot do much to change.
Rachel Simmons explains this problem in her book, Enough As She Is. She states, “If you frequently praise your daughter for having a particular trait, she’ll be motivated to prove that trait every time she faces a challenge. If she fails, she’ll interpret the setback not just as a mistake, but as a sign that she’s not smart, not good at soccer, and a bad poet. In other words, the failure confirms that she doesn’t have the trait”. (Simmons, 86-87)
Person praise. Fixed mindset. The two go hand in hand.
But if we use what’s known as “process praise”, we foster a growth mindset, where our daughters believe they can develop their talents and abilities with hard work, good strategies, and help from others. “Process praise”, where we highlight the effort over the trait, teaches our daughters that the effort is what matters. It allows for mistakes, setbacks, and even failure, as the effort is always there, and always worth praising. Not only that, “process praise” reassures our girls that they don’t need to be perfect on the first try. When we focus on their behavior, on their hard work, and on the strategies they used to accomplish something, we make risk and setback safer.
And THAT is the key to confidence.
So pour on the PROCESS PRAISE. That’s not to say we never tell our girls how gorgeous they look in blue, or how much we love to watch them crush it on the tennis court. Our girls are amazing, and it’s our job- no, it’s our privilege- to remind them of it. But go heavy on the “process praise”. Point out how she’s really good at picking herself up and trying again when things get hard, how you love that she’s driven and not afraid to take risks, or that she really knows how to think outside the box.
The more we can offer this kind of praise, the more we can build confident girls who show courage, take risks, and fight through setbacks.
What a gift for you to give that girl you love so fiercely.
* Simmons, Rachel. Enough As She Is, Harper Collins Publishing, 2018