Instilling confidence – presence not praise

Admiration of a steady and hardworking arc of achievement rather than ‘flash in the pan’ raw talent is the touchstone of a well-adjusted mind. And here’s why.

Is it possible that praise can lead to a loss of confidence, a recent book thinks yes.

Stephen Grosz

Stephen Grosz

In The Examined Life: How We Lose and Find Ourselves published by public library, psychoanalyst and University College London professor Stephen Grosz explores the workings of our inner life, with insights that are invariably profound and often provocative. Grosz writes: “Nowadays, we lavish praise on our children. Praise, self-confidence and academic performance, it is commonly believed, rise and fall together. But current research suggests otherwise — over the past decade, a number of studies on self-esteem have come to the conclusion that praising a child as ‘clever’ may not help her at school. In fact, it might cause her to under-perform. Often a child will react to praise by quitting — why make a new drawing if you have already made ‘the best’? Or a child may simply repeat the same work — why draw something new, or in a new way, if the old way always gets applause?” If you’re already number one, why try harder?

It’s a controversial way of thinking but there is a dollop of truth in our current world of instant gratification and a general lack of gumption. Fame is perceived as easy to achieve but the climb is hard and under publicised. The hard work isn’t shown in the reality TV shows, talent isn’t naturally developed, skill comes with time and practice so why would do we need to applaud our young every step of the way these days. Do you think we need a shake up?

Grosz also adds, “Being present, whether with children, with friends, or even with oneself, is always hard work. But isn’t this attentiveness — the feeling that someone is trying to think about us — something we want more than praise?”

What do you think?

LYP team says: It’s an interesting theory and worth thinking about further especially when working with young people at any age. As educationalists we would say don’t underestimate the power of spending time with someone on a regular basis. We have seen this working effectively when teaching self-esteem,over an 8-week period, that their individual self-esteem goes up dramatically but not solely because of our presence. We are aware that there are other factors involved that help determine a successful outcome, like encouragement, praise, fun, laughter respect as well as listening to them.


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