Elizabeth Gunderson, assistant professor of psychology at Temple University and lead author on a study conducted while she was a graduate student at the University of Chicago, said the kind of praise focused on effort -- called process praise -- sends the message effort and actions are the sources of success, leading children to believe they can improve their performance through hard work.
However, praise focused on the child's characteristics, such as "You're a big boy," sends the message that a child's ability is fixed and results in decreased persistence and performance, Gunderson said.
The research team videotaped 53 children and their parents during everyday interactions at home. Each family was videotaped three times, when children were ages 1, 2 and 3. From the videotapes, the scholars identified instances in which parents praised their children and classified their praise as either process praise, which emphasized a child's effort; person praise, which implied that a child possessed a fixed, positive quality; or other praise, which included all other types of praise.
The researchers followed up with the children five years later, when they were ages 7 to 8.
The study, published online in the journal Child Development, found when parents used a larger percentage of process praise their children reported more positive approaches to challenges and believed their traits could improve with effort. However, the children's responses were not related to the total amount of praise they received, the study said.