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Giving Good Praise to Girls: What Messages Stick

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This insightful article explores Stanford professor Carol Dweck’s groundbreaking research on the most effective ways to praise and motivate girls. Dweck, one of the world’s leading researchers in the field of motivation, has found that there is a strong praise paradox for girls: “What we’ve shown is that when you praise someone, say, ‘You’re smart at this,’ the next time they struggle, they think they’re not. It’s really about praising the process they engage in, not how smart they are or how good they are at it, but taking on difficulty, trying many different strategies, sticking to it and achieving over time.”

In her research, Dweck has found that girls, in particular, tend to think that abilities are fixed — that people are born with a particular talent or ability or they aren’t. As a result, girls are more inclined to give up when they encounter challenges with a particular task or area of study, believing they don’t have the ability to improve.

“Of all the subjects on earth, people think math is the most fixed,” Dweck said. “It’s a gift, you either have it or you don’t.” Due to this belief, if they aren’t achieving the perfection they are aiming for, many girls will begin to avoid subjects where they might fail. In contrast, “We have research showing that women who believe math is an acquired set of skills, not a gift you have or don’t have, fare very well. Even when they have a period of difficulty and even when they’re in an environment that they say is full of negative stereotyping.”

Ultimately, to help build resiliency and a growth mindset, Dweck recommends that adults praise girls’ efforts to take on challenging tasks and overcome difficulties rather than focus strictly on grades or getting the right answer. As she concludes, “The kids who are getting this process praise, strategy and taking on hard things and sticking to them, those are the kids who want the challenge.”

To read more of Dweck’s advice on KQED, visit http://bit.ly/1RZJVCu

Psychologist Carol Dweck is the author of the bestselling “Mindset: The New Psychology of Success” which explores the power of mindset in building resiliency both in a parenting context as well as in terms of adults’ careers and relationships at http://amzn.to/PGX9eG

Her Stanford colleague, Jo Boaler, has also released a highly acclaimed book for parents and teachers that embraces this same approach: “Mathematical Mindsets: Unleashing Students’ Potential through Creative Math, Inspiring Messages and Innovative Teaching” at http://amzn.to/1QixFB9

For two helpful parenting books that address building resiliency in girls, check out “The Myth of the Perfect Girl: Helping Our Daughters Find Authentic Success and Happiness in School and Life” (http://www.amightygirl.com/the-myth-of-the-perfect-girl) and “The Curse of the Good Girl: Raising Authentic Girls with Courage and Confidence” (http://www.amightygirl.com/the-curse-of-the-good-girl)

The parenting book “NutureShock” also explores the inverse power of praise at http://www.amightygirl.com/nurtureshock

And, with many girls avoiding or dropping out of science and math especially as they reach the middle school years, we recommend a wide variety of toys and kits designed to help build girls’ confidence in their abilities at all ages in two blog posts: “Top 50 Science Toys for Mighty Girls” (http://www.amightygirl.com/blog?p=10528) and “Building Her Dreams: Building and Engineering Toys for Mighty Girls” (http://www.amightygirl.com/blog?p=10430).

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