“You’re so smart.”
“You’re so good at that.”
“You’re a natural.”
Who doesn’t love hearing that?
Giving your toddler positive encouragement means a lot to them and feels good to you, too. Also, when toddlers get attention in positive ways, they are less likely to try to get it in negative ways.
Still, if you use certain types of encouraging language with your child over the long term, researchers have discovered it may actually make them feel less motivated to persist, take risks, and try new things.
Here’s what we mean: when you say “you’re so smart,” you are praising them for something they don’t believe they can control: they believe they’re either smart or not. Researcher Carol Dweck calls this “fixed mindset,” which is when people believe their successes are a result of—and limited to—their innate talent or smarts.
Instead, you can encourage your child to believe that their intelligence, capabilities, and talents can grow the more they learn. This is called a “growth mindset,” and children who have it tend to persevere through more difficult tasks.
You might be asking, isn’t this heavy stuff that I can worry about later? My toddler is only 18 months old! In fact, the same research shows that adopting a growth mindset can make a difference starting now. Also, if you can get in the habit of praising your toddler’s efforts, it will be easier as they get older. Developing a habit is easier than changing one.
How to use a growth mindset to support your child:
Praise the process
Try to praise the process and effort vs praising the person: Instead of saying “you’re a superstar!” say “i see you are working really hard on balancing.”
Describe what you see
Describe what you see instead of praising the finished product: Instead of saying “you’re so good at coloring!” say “i love all the colors you’re using!”
When your toddler seems proud, talk about how you feel
Let’s say your toddler puts a piece of trash into the garbage can. Instead of saying “good job!” you might try something like this: “thank you! It feels so good to have help cleaning up.”
Use neutral words
“wow!” “look at that!” or “fun!” are ways to be excited and encourage your toddler in a more neutral way.
*The book by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish, How to Talk so Your Children Will Listen, and Listen so Your Children will Talk is a great resource, especially as your child gets a little older.