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Praise Effort Regardless of the Results

When my husband coached our son’s hockey team, he shared his coaching philosophy with the parents:


“We’ve been praising the full effort of the kids and are less concerned with who scores… not that we don’t acknowledge the goal, we praise how the goal came about.”


This is a mindset you can use to interact with your kids on a daily basis. When praising your child for a task well done, recognize the effort and then the character trait they used when putting in the effort. It’s also important to praise kids based on how well they’re doing compared to themselves, not to other people.

For example, your child receives a high mark on their recent test. Do you say:

  1. ‘Wow! You’re really smart!’ 
  2. Look at what you have achieved. You chose to put in the effort, be determined and stay focused. Excellent work!’

More studies show that choice B is more beneficial for kids:

‘According to Mueller and Dweck (1998), in comparing behaviors of children praised for intelligence (i.e. ‘You’re smart’) with those children praised for effort (i.e. ‘You worked hard’), they found that children who experience praise for their effort display persistence, enjoyment, and continued performance in the face of challenges. This is because they learn to attribute their performance to the effort, rather than to a stable ability, which is how praise for intelligence is often perceived.’


By identifying and attaching specific character traits to their efforts, you show children what their effort and character looks like in action. If they know that being determined and staying focused helped them to achieve their goal, they’ll know what they need do next time. If we simply tell them, ‘You’re so smart’, how will they know what to do in order to achieve the same success? How will they know which character traits they used to get there?


How do you shift your words to praise the effort? Here are some examples:

  1. Great job! (what made it a great job?) You were so determined to learn your spelling words. Choosing to study made a big difference.
  2. You’re a good friend. (what makes them a good friend?) You showed generosity and kindness when you shared your snack.
  3. Way to go! (what did they do?) You were thoughtful. You held the door open for them.
  4. You played well in that game. (how did they play well?)  I am inspired by how much confidence you showed even though you were feeling anxious.

The more we focus our praise on acknowledging the efforts and the character traits used to achieve the desired end result, we teach children that how they succeed is just as important as succeeding. 


Until next time…


Sara Westbrook is a professional speaker and creator of UPower Inc, offering keynotes, presentations and workshops on ‘Emotions Change Choices’ to audiences ages 4 -100. She can be found at sarawestbrook.com or on Instagram @iamsarawestbrook.


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