The Right Way To praise Kids

“You are so smart!”

“You are so pretty!”

We’ve all said these statements to our kids. But what if our words could actually catapult them into reaching their full potential? Would you make the switch? Would you change your method?

Dr. Carol Dweck did an experiment on children from Kindergarten to 5th grade. The idea behind the test was to give the students 10 difficult, but doable problems. At the end she gave a portion of them intelligent praise. This would include statements like, “You got eight out of ten right! You must be really smart.” To the other group, effort praise was given such as, “You got eight out of ten right! You must have tried really hard.”

After this was done, both groups were asked if they wanted to either work on some easier problems or some more challenging ones, knowing that if they chose the challenging ones, mistakes would most likely happen, but they would learn some important things. The results were surprising.

The majority of students who received intelligent praise chose to do easier problems, in large part because they didn’t want to lose the “I’m so smart” title they had been given. Remaining on top became their motivation thus causing them to choose easier paths so they wouldn’t fail. The majority of students who were given effort praise chose the more challenging tasks. They weren’t afraid of making mistakes, and because of this continued to thrive and improve long-term in their grades.

I could go on about more fascinating results she received during these tests, but the point is, what we praise matters! Our kids are born with natural talents and abilities. Some can sing, others have a bent towards mathematics; some are incredibly good looking, while others are gifted athletically. This is beautiful part of who they are and how God created them. But these are also out of their control. What if instead of continually praising these things they were born with, we shifted to praising character traits and their efforts?

Proverbs 22:6 really can be an indictment as much as it is a promise of hope we as parents hold on to! It indirectly communicates that if there is a RIGHT path, than there must be a WRONG one.

Direct your children onto the right path, and when they are older, they will not leave it. Proverbs 22:6 (NLT)

My intentions have always been good in the words of encouragement I have given my kids. But I want them to actually do just that, PUT COURAGE INTO THEM (the very definition of encouragement) to accomplish the things before them that may seem overwhelming, intimidating, scary and bold. I want them to feel empowered by my words and to have it stir up motivation to do and face the hard things.

I will probably always say, “You are pretty” and “You are smart,” but I am going to deliberately use them more sparingly and instead say statements like:

•  I am so proud of you for trying your hardest.
•  I saw how hard you studied today for your test, good job!
•  You are so great at being thoughtful of others needs.
•  I love the way you chose your words carefully when talking to your friends.
•  You are great at not backing down when there is a challenge in front of you.
•  I noticed your effort in being kind to your sister today.


Ephesians 4:29 says, “Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers.” (NKJV)

Corrupt is a strong word, and probably most of us moms wouldn’t use that as the description of how we talk to our kids, but let’s look a little deeper at this word. Corrupt means rotten or putrefied, no longer fit for use and worn out, a poor quality that is worthless. I am confident you and I feel the same way…we want our words to bring edification and to build them up, not be worthless and good for nothing. I love the last line of this verse…that it may IMPART GRACE to the hearers. In the simplest form, grace is God’s power and ability at work. I want my words to do just that…to give them the power and motivation they need to face all the challenges that life brings them, good and bad.

And on one little side note, this would be a great way for us to start speaking to ourselves. Today, let’s look in the mirror and praise the efforts WE made as moms and see if it doesn’t start motivating us in a new and exciting way.

Sabrina Schelesinger   

Sabrina is a mother to three girls and one boy. She is also a pastors wife, freelance graphic designer, and mom coach! She resides in beautiful San Diego where the sun shines almost every day. She prefers chai lattes over coffee, mac-n-cheese over vegetables and staying in over going out. Check her out on Instagram and Facebook!

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