Further Thoughts on The Inverse Power of Praise

This book is really getting to me.

You know the old adage, ‘try, try, and try again’ – well Nurture Shock goes on to say in “The Inverse Power of Praise” chapter that:

“…the ability to repeatedly respond to failure by exerting more effort – instead of simply giving up – is a trait well studied in psychology. People with this trait, persistence, rebound well and can sustain their motivation through long periods of delayed gratification.”

Praising the effort, the ‘process’, as the author cites with her own son, means using specific praise:

“So I praised him for concentrating without asking to take a break. If he listened to instructions carefully, I praised him for that.”

Not just a “ya done good, kid.”

I can testify to the efficacy of this. Despite my concerns that I have told my daughter she is smart way too often, I have pulled out my memories of teaching parenting classes in the 90s and consciously made an effort to recognize specific actions and comment on those…

  • When handed a picture she has drawn, I will say, “Look at those lovely colors! Tell me about this picture.”
  • When shown a block house and asked if she has done it ‘right’, I will say, “It reminds me of a fort! You put a lot of effort into making this, didn’t you?”

And so forth and so on. Often this will lead to other things, another more intensive art project in which I am involved, or looking at pictures of forts or talking about what forts were for. Most important, however, is Emily’s reaction to my response. Her chest juts out a little, her eyes light up, and she will describe to me the picture and who is in it and what they are doing, or show me all of the special quirks about her architectural masterpiece. She is engaged, interested, and excited.

I particularly like this quote…

“…we put our children in high-pressure environments, seeking out the best schools we can find, then we use the constant praise to soften the intensity of those environments. We expect so much of them, but we hide our expectations behind constant glowing praise. For me, the duplicity became glaring.” [emphasis mine]

Now obviously this author is not a homeschool parent (the talk of school gave it away a long time ago), but the point is still there. Of the times I have introduced curriculum that was too advanced for Emily, I have found myself praising effusively, and her responding with backpedaling…”I don’t want to learn this right now.”

Ah…the glaring duplicity.

The author ends the chapter by writing…

Eventually, in my final stage of praise withdrawal, I realized that not telling my son he was smart meant I was leaving it up to him to make his own conclusion about his intelligence. Jumping in with praise is like jumping in too soon with the answer to a homework problem – it robs him of the chance to make the deduction himself.

But what if he makes the wrong conclusion?

Can I really leave this up to him, at his age? [age 5]

I’m still an anxious parent. This morning, I tested him on the way to school: “What happens to your brain, again, when it gets to think about something hard?”

“It gets bigger, like a muscle,” he responded, having aced this one before.

Food for thought, folks…

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