PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — From the moment they’re born, parents want the best for their kids – helping guide, teach and encourage them as they grow.

One way parents do that is with words, especially praise. But is all praise… good praise?

KDKA’s Kristine Sorensen set up a test to find out.

Nine kids at Pine Richland’s upper elementary school volunteered to be part of our study, led by Kristin Schaffner, who’s getting her PGD in school psychology at Duquesne University and works with children at the child development center at Western Psychiatric Institute.

Schaffner gave each child a puzzle to solve, working with each of them individually.

For half of the children, she praised them for their intelligence, saying things like, “I can just tell you are a really smart kid.”

The other half, she praised for their effort, saying words like “I can tell you’re really trying your best and working hard.”

After each child tried an easy and then a challenging puzzle, the child was given a choice — an easier or harder puzzle.

Just like the Stanford University study, KDKA’s study found that when kids were praised for being smart, they chose the easier route, but the kids who were praised for their hard work chose to challenge themselves.

Of course, there are times when external influences outweigh a short test, like the youngest tester, 8-year-old Darcy Lund. Darcy chose the harder puzzle, even though Schaffner praised for her intelligence.

Her mom told KDKA that Darcy aspires to be like her big brother, Drew, and that her parents encourage her to try her best.

KDKA’s test was based on a larger study at Stanford University with Dr. Carol Dweck.

She found that praising kids too often for everything they do can actually undermine their self-esteem because it makes them afraid to fail.

Schaffner offers four specific ways we can praise our kids better.

1.) Praise effort rather than ability.
Example: “I know you spent a lot of time studying and I really loved how you kept working at it and thinking about how you want do better in that class.”

2.) Be specific.
Instead of vague praise like: “Good job” or “I like that” or “Nice work.”

Examples of specific praise are:

  • “I like the way that you’re using your manners and saying please and thank you.”
  • “I like how you’re sitting and working really hard at studying for your test tomorrow.”
  • “I like how you’re sharing your toys with your brother or sister.”

3.) Be intermittent with your praise.
Schaffner says “even as adults, if we hear praise all the time and it seems over the top, then it doesn’t seem as good to us.”

4.) Be sincere.
Schaffner says if we’re sincere, it will be meaningful to the child.

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