Praise a Child's Character Rather than Actions

The researchers randomly assigned the children to receive different types of praise. For some of the children, they praised the action: “It was good that you gave some of your marbles to those poor children. Yes, that was a nice and helpful thing to do.” For others, they praised the character behind the action: “I guess you’re the kind of person who likes to help others whenever you can. Yes, you are a very nice and helpful person.”

A couple of weeks later, when faced with more opportunities to give and share, the children were much more generous after their character had been praised than after their actions had been. Praising their character helped them internalize it as part of their identities. The children learned who they were from observing their own actions: I am a helpful person. This dovetails with new research led by the psychologist Christopher J. Bryan, who finds that for moral behaviors, nouns work better than verbs. To get 3- to 6-year-olds to help with a task, rather than inviting them “to help,” it was 22 to 29 percent more effective to encourage them to “be a helper.” Cheating was cut in half when instead of, “Please don’t cheat,” participants were told, “Please don’t be a cheater.” When our actions become a reflection of our character, we lean more heavily toward the moral and generous choices. Over time it can become part of us.

Praise appears to be particularly influential in the critical periods when children develop a stronger sense of identity. When the researchers Joan E. Grusec and Erica Redler praised the character of 5-year-olds, any benefits that may have emerged didn’t have a lasting impact: They may have been too young to internalize moral character as part of a stable sense of self. And by the time children turned 10, the differences between praising character and praising actions vanished: Both were effective. Tying generosity to character appears to matter most around age 8, when children may be starting to crystallize notions of identity.


The opposite of telling a child they work hard instead of telling them they are "smart." Tell a child they are a good person when they do good things so that they internalize morality.

Folksonomies: parenting morality

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Morality (0.927441): dbpedia | freebase
Praise (0.810748): dbpedia | freebase
Cheating (0.737149): dbpedia | freebase | opencyc
Social philosophy (0.625997): dbpedia | freebase | yago
Identity (0.595866): dbpedia | freebase
Developmental psychology (0.580913): dbpedia | freebase | opencyc
Verb (0.574016): dbpedia | freebase | opencyc
Child (0.559833): dbpedia | freebase | opencyc

 Raising a Moral Child
Electronic/World Wide Web>Internet Article:  Grant, Adam (04/11/2014), Raising a Moral Child, New York Times, Retrieved on 2014-04-21
  • Source Material []
  • Folksonomies: parenting morality


    14 JUN 2011

     Raising Well-Adjusted Children

    Memes on parenting and activities to encourage intelligence and good behavior in children.
    Folksonomies: parenting child rearing
    Folksonomies: parenting child rearing