How you praise your toddler now can have a strong effect on her attitude and how she approaches challenges later in life. Equally important is knowing how to motivate your child. Here’s the best kind of praise to motivate learning.

Toddler Learning: How to Motivate and Praise Your Child

Ever hear yourself saying, “Good job!” or “You’re so smart!” Praise is a kind of feedback that lets children know how we think they’re doing. Praise communicates your values and beliefs, and it influences how kids think about doing better. Communication experts say there are different kinds of praise—and one kind is more effective than the others. Knowing how to praise your child can influence how hard your toddler tries in the future.

Kinds of Praise You May Use With Your Toddler

Do you know how to praise your child? Some praise may include general comments, like “nice” or “wonderful.” But there are two main types of praise:

  • Process praise focuses on the process at hand or your child’s ability. Examples: “You’re trying your best.” “Wow, you kept working to make that puzzle piece fit.” “Good job saying the colors.”
  • Person praise focuses on the child. Examples: “You’re a smart boy.” “What a fast runner you are!”

Which praise inspires kids’ learning most?

Process praise is most effective because it tells your child that her efforts and actions are the source of success. This gives her an idea that it’s always possible to try harder and do better. Person praise, in comparison, backfires because it gives children the idea that the traits of success are fixed. It sends the message that either you’re smart or not, or you’re fast or not.

Studies have found that process praise makes kids more persistent, and they do better at challenging tasks. Put simply, kids believe they can do better. Person praise makes kids try less hard over time. Kids who are told that they are great, rather than their efforts, wind up thinking that effort doesn’t matter much.

Real-Life Praise for Toddler Learning

Researchers know that in real life, you might give your child a mix of praise. At different times, you might say, “Good job!” and “You’re good at that” and “Nice!” But overall, studies have shown, the amount of process praise given between ages 1 and 3 has a strong influence on how children welcome challenges when they’re 7 to 8 years old and beyond.

Interestingly, research has also shown that parents of boys tend to use more process praise. And sure enough, later in school, boys are more likely to have positive attitudes about challenges than girls. So begin to watch now how you praise your child.