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From the Beginning, Emphasize Persistence and Hard Work

Even during her early months, be aware that the words you use to communicate with a baby make a difference. Although initially, she does not know the specific meanings, the phrases you repeat will begin to take on meaning long before you realize it.

Current research informs us that praising outer traits such as intelligence, athletic ability or good looks actually tends to promote less confidence rather than more. As a mother, I heaped bushels of praise on my children. Why would this not build confidence and self-esteem? Carol Dweck provides this feedback.

  • At some point, the child may wonder, “Does Mom know what she is talking about? Maybe I do not sing as well as she thinks. Am I going to be a terrible disappointment to her?” Not only is credibility questioned. Fear of disappointing a parent may also create unintended stress.

  • A child raised on “being smart” may be hesitant to try new skills or accept challenges. A struggle to learn more difficult material might suggest less intelligence than first predicted. Even worse, a child who always chooses activities or classes she can master easily, will not continue to improve. Like developing muscular strength, vigorous mental workouts also build strength and ability

  • When external (outer) traits get too much attention, a child may not grasp the importance of intrinsic (internal) qualities such as kindness or patience. Consider the difference between a teen focused totally on her good looks with one who experiences the joy of helping others.

Carol Dweck claims that excessive praise tends to create a “fixed” mindset. (xv). Dweck encourages a “growth” mindset to emphasize that everyone can continue to learn, and with practice, can improve skills. Along with an attitude of continual growth, experts want children to realize that failures become useful for growth. In fact, if no mistakes show up, little or no growth can be occurring.

Dweck and others suggest that parents and grandparents emphasize the values of hard work and perseverance. When talking to babies, comments might be:

  • “Look at you! I see you working so hard to feed yourself. Even though feeding yourself is hard to do, you seem to be having fun.”

  • “It feels good to work hard, doesn’t it?”

  • “Wow! All that chewing on toys has helped you get two more teeth. Good for you for not giving up easily.”

  • “When you stand by yourself, I can see your determination. Keep practicing.”

  • “You do not give up easily.

As she grows and gets older, your comments might change to:

  • You have been studying your math skills (118). That feels good, doesn’t it?

  • You were friendly to the new girl at school. Being friendly to new people takes courage.

  • Every time you feel afraid and do the right thing, your courage grows.

  • Learning to throw balls takes time and effort. You can feel happy about your hard work.

Give ownership where it belongs—to the child. Acknowledge hard work and persistence above perfection so you can maintain an attitude of continual growth.


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