Happy Compliment Day! Yes, it is a real thing. Today is the day to throw compliments around like confetti and yet if we aren’t careful our well-intentioned compliments might stunt our growth and that of those who we love the most.

Let’s talk about how what we compliment matters. And the subtle ways compliments can stunt growth if we aren’t careful.

Back when I was a beginning teacher, my mentor’s mantra was “praise the deed and not the child.”

She said if you want a student to work hard, praise hard work. If you want students to work toward solving ever challenging problems, praise effort toward that end. If you want students to rely on their own inner guidance rather than look to you for praise, remind them that their hard work matters to them.

What she was getting at is backed in research on growth and fixed mindset.

Did you know that when kids are complimented on their smarts, it can lead to them to a fixed mindset? Did you know that people with a fixed mindset would rather not try a challenging problem than to be seen as anything less than smart?

This was exactly what happened to me as a child. Teachers and adults in my life always told me I was smart and such a good girl. This lead me to do whatever it took to keep others believing that about me even though I did not.

I had a fixed mindset. It wasn’t until I started my career as a teacher and learned how and what we say to students can have a lasting effect on their lives well into adulthood.

Those with the fixed mindset believe that you are either born with it or not. They spend a lifetime trying to keep that belief rather than growing.

When we compliment kids on their effort or work within the framework that our brains are muscles and get stronger with each challenge, kids develop a growth mindset.

People with a growth mindset will keep trying new ways to solve problems, work harder, start over and keep coming back at problems until they have solved them.

Praise the deed, not the doer.

Complimenting appearances is another place where we mean well, but the well-intentioned message can be misinterpreted.

When we focus on traits that are out of our control – hair, eyes, shapes of the body – kids can take that to mean that is what matters most. They can get focused on outward appearance as how the world sees them and not develop their inner skills.

Again, what we notice is what kids come to believe is what matters.

If we want to raise kids who show initiative, tell them you appreciate that they noticed a job that needing doing and they got it done. If kindness is an important trait, notice when your kids have been gentle and helpful (the definition of kind) and tell them you noticed.

Sometimes kids don’t need more than a sincere thank you to feel encouraged. A genuine thank you goes way further than a hollow “good job” any day of the week.

All these go for adults too.

Next time you want to compliment a friend or colleague, notice something about them rather than their appearance.

Some examples are:

“Noticed how you spoke up in that meeting and I was cheering for you.”

“Thank you for showing me what hard work and dedication look like. I really admire you.”

“You look really happy.”

What kind of mindset do you have: fixed or growth? What kinds of compliments to you give and receive?