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The Way You Talk to Your Child About Math Matters

By University of Georgia

September 7, 2022

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Encouraging children with responses related to their personal traits or innate abilities may dampen their math motivation and achievement over time, according to a study published in Child Development.

Comments that link a child's performance to personal attributes ("You're so smart") are called person responses. In contrast, comments that link a child's actions, such as effort or strategy use, to their performance ("You worked hard") are process responses.

"Person-focused praise sounds good on its face, but ultimately, it might undermine students' motivation if they run into challenges," says Michael Barger, an assistant professor at the University of Georgia and an author of the study.

The more parents used person responses, the poorer children's later math adjustment, the study says. Children who received more person responses were more likely to avoid harder math problems, exhibited higher levels of math anxiety, and scored lower on a math achievement test.

From University of Georgia
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