Keep the Praise Coming! Praise From Parents May Improve a Child’s Persistence

Here’s a great reason to offer up a "good job!" to your kids.

By: Amanda Mushro

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Photo by: Terry Vine

Terry Vine

Sometimes it can feel like we’re on cruise control when it comes to praising our kids. After a day of countless "good jobs!" and dozens of "wow, that’s great!" we might feel like a broken record offering up constant praise. However, new research says that giving our kids that extra boost of praise is a good thing and can help teach them perseverance. So go ahead and offer up a few more "nice work" and another handful of "yay!" because your words are helping to create persistent kids.

According to a study that was conducted by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania, Yale University and the Sante Fe Institute, toddlers' behavior changed significantly when they were praised by their parents.

For the study, researchers followed 81 three-year-olds. Yes, you read that right–81 toddlers. Imagine what a room full of that many three-year-olds looks like and sounds like!

However, researchers were only focusing on one particular behavior: the way these three-year-olds were learning to brush their teeth. Parents were asked to record their interactions with their toddlers while they were brushing their teeth over two different 16 day periods.

In each video, parents were instructed to start recording before the toothbrush was in their child’s mouth and to stop recording when their kid was done brushing. Researchers told parents to let their child brush their teeth for as long as they could before mom or dad had to help.

Parents submitted these videos every day and also filled out daily surveys that detailed how stressed the parents felt, the child’s mood each day, and how much sleep the child got that day with a nap and at night.

What researchers found was that kids brushed longer when their parents praised them more than instructed them on how they should be brushing. While a toddlers' perseverance fluctuates from day to day, the times that parents offered up more praise, their children tried harder to accomplish their teeth brushing task.

"Our work provides a path towards identifying the specific factors that impact individual children’s persistence to design targeted interventions, some of which parents may not find obvious," Julia Leonard, assistant professor of psychology at Yale University, said in a press release. "Our work also demonstrates a new approach to studying children’s healthy development — instead of focusing on what factors make one group of children different from another, our study asked which factors make individual children more like the best version of themselves."

While this study only focuses on brushing teeth, researchers say they hope parents will use their knowledge with their kids of all ages. So go ahead and offer up that praise and in the moments when you feel like just doing a task for your child or correcting them, try some simple words of praise and affirmation to see if you notice a difference in their behavior.

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