One of my favorite studies on children and praise was conducted by Carol Dweck and has helped evolved the praise I use when working with children. Ultimately you are more likely to see higher achievement in children and a natural yearning to learn when you praise them on their efforts rather than their abilities/ intelligence.
Let me explain the study to you in laymen's terms:
Dweck studied the response of 400 grammar students across the country from various socio economic backgrounds after completing a simple 10 question IQ test. Half of the students were praised for their intelligence (Ie. Wow! You are so smart!) While the other half were praised for their efforts. (Ie. Wow! You really worked hard on that!)
The children were then given an option for their next test. The first option being a harder version of the first that they mentioned would give them an opportunity to learn more. The second option was an easier option that they most surely would succeed at. In the end 92% of the children that were praised for their efforts chose the harder option and 67% of the children who were praised for their intelligence chose the easier option.
The children were then given a very hard puzzle. One so hard that they surely would not be able to complete it- as it was not developmentally appropriate for their age group. The study, however, concluded that the group praised for effort spent more time on the puzzle and worked harder on it too. They enjoyed doing it more than the group that was praised for their intelligence, who became more frustrated and gave up more easily.
The groups were given their final task- one last puzzle that was as easy as the first. The average of the group praised for their intelligence dropped 20% while the average for the group praised for effort increased over 30%.
Dweck explained the phenomenon:
"The child hears: oh you think I'm brilliant and talented. That's why you admire me - that's why you value me. I better not do anything that will disprove this evaluation. As a result they enter a fixed mindset, they play it safe in the future and they limit the growth of their talent....Whereas focusing on the strategies they use, the way they are stretching themselves and taking on hard tasks, the intense practice they are doing. Those are the kinds of things that say to a child... it's about the process of growth. As a result they don't feel: Oh if I make a mistake you won't think I'm talented - they think: Oh, if I don't take on hard things and stick to them, I'm not going to grow."
Praising our children or the children we work with comes natural to any parent or teacher who is excited about children making connections and succeeding. Of course we want to let them know how proud we are of them for accomplishing something. This study can teach us that if we are intentional in our praise, we can help children become more naturally motivated and excited to strive for achievement.
Mueller, C. M., & Dweck, C. S. (1998). Praise for intelligence can undermine children's motivation and performance. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 75(1), 33–52. https://doi.org/10.1037/0022-35188.8.131.52