A quick Google search will bring up a multitude of blogs, articles and research papers, all advocating the importance of praising effort, not just outcome. As educators, this is a given, and we know it helps children develop that all-important ‘growth mindset’. By praising effort, we are helping children understand that when they find something difficult, it is the importance of a growth mindset which will help them complete an activity, not their innate ability in a task. In short, we are helping children become more resilient.
Both praise for outcome and effort can be categorised as praising ‘doing’. For example, if we praise the outcome of winning a rugby match or the effort in playing well in a football match where the team lost, the child had to ‘do’ something in both cases. Whether that is scoring the winning goal or putting in the effort to persevere, the child could have chosen not to do it.
There is, therefore, a third strand to praise, which is, in my view, perhaps even more important: praise for ‘being’. A few examples might be that when we shake hands with the children each morning, we say, ‘It is so nice to see you,’ or when we are working, we might say, ‘I’m so glad you are in this class.’ The difference compared with the other forms of praise listed above is that the child does not need to ‘do’ anything to receive this praise, which makes it incredibly important.
At Dulwich Prep London, we strive to create a culture where every child feels valued as an individual. At the heart of this lies a strong self-belief. In a society where it is increasingly difficult to understand how and where they will fit in, it is incumbent on schools to ensure that children feel secure in who they are. To do this, children need to be ‘topped up’ with positive praise for simply ‘being’ in order to reinforce the feeling that who they are is enough. However, this culture at Dulwich Prep London is not just reserved for children. We want our staff to feel equally comfortable praising each other for ‘being’ and parents to feel comfortable doing the same. It is, however, not easy and therefore requires conscious effort (I challenge you to think on the spot of ways to praise a colleague at work that do not involve any ‘doing’, be that outcome or effort; it’s hard!).
Nevertheless, just because it is difficult does not mean we shouldn’t do it. In fact, given the importance, it is crucial that we ensure ‘praise for being’ becomes a daily habit. By daily habit, I recommend that we all try to build it into our day. For example, you may wish to start each day with, ‘It’s so nice to see you this morning!’ or end each day with, ‘I am looking forward to starting the day with you tomorrow,’ or ‘Thank you for letting me share this book with you.’ I can guarantee that the impact will not just be immediate with a happier child; you will also be ensuring that your child builds a stronger self-belief, which will invariably lead to improved wellbeing as they tackle the inevitable challenges life will bring.
And remember, if it feels awkward, perhaps it is because you haven’t been saying it enough!
Thank you for finishing this article (praise for doing, outcome). Thank you for reaching the end of this article (praise for doing, effort).
Thank you for letting me share this idea with you (praise for being!).
Dr Christopher Halls, Head of Early Years