Parents Praising Young Children: Focus on the Process


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Girls get less process praise. Image by woodleywonderworks

The researchers concluded that parents’ praise tended to match their general outlook toward human attributes, or whether or not a parent believed in an “entity or incremental framework” theory.  Parents who believed that math ability was a fixed trait, for instance, primarily subscribed to an entity theory of attributes. Parents who cited processes such as hard work and challenge as important were said to subscribe to an incremental theory of attributes.

If the type of praise given to a child was process praise, it influenced the child’s own motivational framework five years later, leading to an incremental or effort-based interpretation.

Gender and Praise

Overall, boys received more process praise than did girls. Gunderson reports, “Cumulatively across all time points, 24.4% of the praise that boys received was process praise…, whereas only 10.3% of the praise that girls received was process praise.

This trend persisted at all ages. In an exclusive interview with the Dr. Gunderson, Decoded Science asked the researcher to comment on the greater emphasis on people praise in girls, and whether it might contribute to their under-representation in the STEM fields later (science, technology, engineering and mathematics).

Gunderson replied, “I think it is important to investigate these effects in stereotyped domains like STEM disciplines, where gender differences in praise and attribution styles  could contribute to gender differences in children’s interest in STEM fields.  But, again, this is something that is not yet proven and would need further  study.”

Implications for Caregivers

Children overall, and girls in particular, would benefit if more emphasis were put on process praise rather than people praise.  As Gunderson noted in her interview with Decoded Science, “making parents aware of this research could certainly be helpful in encouraging the use of process praise, which tends to lead to more adaptive outcomes in children.”  Outcomes like trying harder in school today, and trying harder to solve society’s problems tomorrow.


Gunderson, E. et al. Parent Praise to 1-3 Year-Olds predicts Children’s Motivational Frameworks 5 Years Later(2013). Journal of Child Development. Accessed February 13, 2013.

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