- Praise for achievement (what he does). Whenever you think that your child does something well, tell him. However, achievement praise loses its power if it's used indiscriminately - if, for example, "that's fantastic!" covers everything from finishing dinner to riding a bicycle alone for the very first time. Indiscriminate phrase for achievement can actually promote narcissism and extreme self-absorption, inability to make friends or behave appropriately in social situations, irrational anger at others, and a lack of interest in learning.
- Praise for process (how he does it). The research showed that "process praise" - for effort, inventiveness, keeping at it - is the most effective kind. Process praise is not focused on outcomes, yet it helps children actually do better at tasks. He learns that how he does something is important. He will keep using the techniques and ways of thinking he got praised for and that are most likely to bring about a sense of mastery and success - both major factors in preventing and healing depression.
- Praise for person (who he is). People need to know that they are valued just because of who they are, without having to strive for this recognition. You can say to your child, "You are a great kid!" This is a relationship-building praise, but it's also a statement of your feelings toward your child. The subtext is: "I love you and I am not going to abandon or desert you." Since there is nothing a child fears more than abandonment, this is a vital ongoing reassurance.
The authors also stress that there is such a thing as bad praise. One example they give is using "nonspecific" praise. For example, telling a child he's "good" when you are really pleased he's picked up his toys doesn't let him know specifically how he can maintain your approval. Even praising a child for a fixed trait such as intelligence or being musical or athletic can backfire. The child has no control over these genetic characteristics. Researchers have found that labeling children as gifted or talented may also have a negative impact by causing them to become overly concerned with justifying that label. They may become less willing to risk academic setbacks by taking on challenges that enhance their learning and mastery skills.
I found the last paragraph especially interesting, because it seems that some parents appear to be in extreme rush to get their toddlers labeled as gifted. There is one parenting forum I encountered that is called "Advanced Toddlers and Preschoolers". Half the posts there start with the same question, "... my 20 month child recognizes letters. Is he gifted?". Even if he or she is, what difference does it really make? Young children still need the same things - opportunity to play, socialize with peers, enjoy outdoors. Their natural talents will develop much better that way. Oh, well, I am going to get off my soapbox now and go give my daughter a much-needed bath.