Tips on How to Praise Correctly

February 08, 2014 by Sebastian Kotur
Image Most school teachers, tutors and parents agree on the importance of praising children. Praise can be an immensely important motivator driving a child’s performance, whether the goal be a passing a common entrance exam, good GCSEs, or just encouraging children to develop their talents and fulfil their potential. But are we giving the right sort of praise?

One of our tutors, Stephanie S, is an Educational and Child Psychologist. She explains how to use praise in the best way.

The importance of praise is now an old phenomenon; the notion has been around long enough for people to be sceptical about its benefits. It seems that we are beginning to underestimate its value and some even think it be may detrimental - I regularly get asked questions along the lines of: “But won’t praising my children spoil them or fill them with false hopes?”


From previous research we know that praising children for their efforts rather than their inherent traits has a positive impact on their all-round development (Kamins and Dweck, 1999; Mueller & Dweck, 1998). What this means is that we should praise children using “process praise” – i.e. focusing on their efforts, actions and strategies to completing a task, rather than our view of an inherent ability (“you’re so smart”, “you are good”) that helped them complete it.

This idea is backed by a new study by Carol Dweck and Elizabeth Gunderson, who monitored how parents praise their young children in real-life situations, and to note the impact of this on children 5 years later. The key finding was that the more parents praised pre-school children for effort (known as process praise, as in “good job”), the more likely it was that those children had an “incremental attitude” towards intelligence. For example, such children tended to agree that people can get smarter if they try harder, and disagree with the idea that a naughty child will always be naughty. From other research we know that such a mind-set has a positive impact on a child’s life and academic success.

So how should we praise a child?

  • “You found a good way to do that!”

  • “You worked really hard at that!” as opposed to “you are so smart”

  • “That was some really good addition”

  • “Very nice handwriting” as opposed to “you have neat handwriting”

  • “You did a good job drawing” as opposed to “you are a good drawer”

  • “Good job counting” as opposed to “you’re a good counter”

  • “You’re trying your best” as opposed to “good boy”

What if they make a mess of the end product, and there is nothing to praise? Well… is there really nothing to praise?? If you do some really good detective work there will be at least 1 action the child did well, even if it was only standing up!

Click here to view Stephanie’s profile page and find out more about her.


Cimpian, A., Arce, H., Markman, E. M., & Dweck, C. S. (2007). Subtle linguistic cues impact children’s motivation. Psychological Science, 18, 314–316.

Kamins, M., & Dweck, C. S. (1999). Person vs. process praise and criticism: Implications for contingent self-worth and coping. Developmental Psychology, 35, 835–847.

Mueller, C. M., & Dweck, C. S. (1998). Intelligence praise can undermine motivation and performance. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 75, 33–52.

Gunderson EA, Gripshover SJ, Romero C, Dweck CS, Goldin-Meadow S, and Levine SC (2013). Parent Praise to 1- to 3-Year-Olds Predicts Children’s Motivational Frameworks 5 Years Later. Child development, 84 (5), 1526-41 PMID: 23397904

Post written by Christian Jarrett (@psych_writer) for the BPS Research Digest.


Illustration from  -CC-by

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