father and son building blocksGood parents know that praising their son enhances his self-esteem, but a recent study at the University of Chicago shows that the kind of praise that parents give their sons affects his ability to handle future challenges in life.   In the Science Daily article, “Child Development:  The Right Kind of Early Praise Predicts Positive Attitudes Toward Effort,” explains that, “toddlers who hear praise directed at their efforts…are more likely to prefer challenging versus easy tasks and to believe that intelligence and personality can improve with effort…”

It seems that there are two kinds of praise.  First, there is “process praise.”  This kind of praise emphasizes effort, and it suggests to your son that what he does and how hard he tries are what will make him successful.  An example of process praise might be, “You worked really hard to do that!”  Other process praise examples include “You’re trying your best,” and “Good job counting.”   The second kind of praise is “person praise.”  Person praise acknowledges your son’s characteristics.  These are things that he cannot control.  Saying something like, “You’re a big boy,” is not something that he can change.  It requires no effort.  Other examples of person praise include “You’re a smart boy,”  “You’re good at this,” “Great,” and “You got it.”

The study looked for the long-term effects of both kinds of praise on very young children aged one to three.  Five years later, these children were assessed again in the following areas:

  • Whether they preferred challenging versus easy tasks
  • Whether they were able to generate strategies for overcoming setbacks
  • Whether they believed that intelligence and personality are traits that can be developed

The results among this group suggested that a greater percentage of boys had received more process praise than the girls, and that they had more positive attitudes about coping with challenges.

The results of this study, which was supported by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development and by the National Center for Educational Research, suggests that parents need to be intentional about giving process praise to their sons because they will probably be more likely to experience success in life.