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Many parents of children with ADD and ADHD will read the title and throw up their hands. Come on. Really? Praising children has been a technique used for motivation since the beginning of time. It can backfire?

Hold on. Don't throw up the white flag yet.

Here it is boiled down to three simple errors to avoid when praising your children:

Avoid Praising Intelligence

Instead of motivating and strengthening their children's confidence, certain types of praise have been shown to decrease persistence, enjoyment and performance. (Mueller and Dweck, 1989) That is not the effect parents are going for.

In their study, Mueller and Dweck worked with 400 children. They praised some of them for ability “You are good at math.” They praised others for effort “You must have really studied for this math test.”

They found that students praised for ability saw this ability as a fixed characteristic. Thus even when their math scores were poor, they saw little benefit in putting effort into their math studies. They simply thought “The other was a fluke. I am not good at math.” These students also have low motivation to try something new and risk failure. They stick to what they know has been successful in the past.

Students praised for their effort saw their test scores as able to be improved simply with more effort. These students are more apt to study harder for their next test because they believe it will make a difference. They are also more willing to try new things because they understand that with effort they

Avoid Social Comparisons

Many well intentioned, loving adults say things like:

  • “Wow! You are the best player on the team!”
  • “This math score is even higher than your brother's!”
  • “You must be the best student in the class!”

By comparing the child with ADD or ADHD to another person or group of people, it:

1. Makes your child relates success to being better than others.

What happens at the next baseball game when your child hits a double and tags two players out, but another child blasts a homerun and strikes out five players. Your child was not “the best player” today, but she had a great game! She may not see it that way if she is always comparing herself with others. It robs her the opportunity to enjoy her achievement.

2. Eliminates Opportunities to Learn Important Values and Skills

Children with ADD and ADHD who feel like they are in constant competition with others miss out on learning teamwork, empathy and self motivation. It is hard to work together or be happy for your classmate's success when you are constantly trying to one up them. Also, if they lose their competitive urge, they lose their motivation to succeed.

3. Equating Love to Success

Some children who are constantly compared to others begin to equate an adult's love with their ability to be better than others. That is not healthy or helpful.

Avoid Generalities

It is easy to throw around phrases like “Great Job!” or “Good Boy!” These phrases don't show much effort in evaluating the work or activity. In fact, they can be said without paying much attention at all. Children with ADD and ADHD are smart. They see our laziness as disinterest and it lowers their motivation.

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