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Ask an Expert: Don't say, "Great job!"

EdNews Parent expert Wendy Hoffer offers some tips to parents wondering how to motivate their children to put more effort into school.

Q. I see my child battling mediocrity in school. I know he can do better, but he seems content with Bs and Cs. Help!

A. Effort, according to Stanford psychologist Dr. Carol Dweck, is more important than ability or achievement.

In her book, Mindset, she describes the tremendous importance of teaching all students a “growth” mindset (that we achieve through perseverance), rather than accepting a “fixed” mindset (talent is innate, so effort is irrelevant).
Dweck describes how we adults influence childrens’ mindsets with how we attribute praise: “Great job! You are so smart!” promotes the notion that smarts are allotted in fixed quantities, and we each do what we can with what we have. Alternately, “Wow! You really stuck with this project even when you were frustrated, and now all of your hard work is paying off,” and comments of that nature applaud the learner’s effort, promoting the growth mindset.

As a parent, I encourage you to begin to notice what you and other adults in your child’s life are praising, to get a copy of Dweck’s book and share with your son some of the inspiring examples of people who have achieved greatness though determination.

Promote the growth mindset; help your son to find his dreams and the passion to go after them.

About our First Person series:

First Person is where Chalkbeat features personal essays by educators, students, parents, and others trying to improve public education. Read our submission guidelines here.

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