Praise From Parents May Improve a Child’s Persistence, Study Says

“Instead of focusing on what factors make one group of children different from another, our study asked which factors make individual children more like the best version of themselves.”
save article
profile picture of Nehal Aggarwal
By Nehal Aggarwal, Editor
Updated December 18, 2021
Hero Image
Image: Getty Images

Children learn many things in the early years of life, and one of them is persistence behavior. Persistence behavior is necessary for kids, as it helps them follow through on tasks they may not otherwise want to do as they grow older, like brushing their teeth, exercising and studying. Now a study is looking at what factors may influence a young child’s persistence behavior.

The study was published in Child Development and conducted by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania, Yale University and the Sante Fe Institute. They looked at daily toothbrushing behaviors of 81 toddlers, aged 3 years old and whether hearing praise from their parents had any impact.

The participants for the study were 80 percent White, 14 percent Multiracial, 10 percent Hispanic or Latinx, 2 percent Asian and one percent Black. One percent of the participants preferred not to answer. Out of all the families, 94 percent were in Pennsylvania, and the rest were in New Jersey, Delaware, Massachusetts, Maryland and Florida. The families had an annual income range from $14,000 to $200,000, but most of the data came from higher-income families.

For the study, the families submitted videos of their child brushing their teeth every night over the period of 16 days. The videos showed both the child’s persistence behavior and how their parents interacted with them. The researchers asked the parents to let their toddler brush their teeth on their own for as long as possible before helping. The videos also showcased any praise the parents gave, broken into three categories: “process praise” (i.e. “good job”), “person praise” (i.e. “good girl”) and “other praise” (i.e. “very good”). Other engagements from the parents were categorized as “distraction” (such as pretend play, singing, etc.) and “instruction” (like saying “brush the back teeth” and “keep brushing”).

Along with the video, the parents answered daily surveys asking about how stressed they were each night, their child’s mood that day and how much sleep everyone got. The study found that the toddler’s persistence behavior changed daily and seemed to be impacted by how their parents spoke to them. The kids brushed for longer on the days their parents praised them more than they instructed them.

“Our work provides a path towards identifying the specific factors that impact individual children’s persistence to design targeted interventions, some of which parents may not find obvious,” Julia Leonard, assistant professor of psychology at Yale University, said in a press release. “Our work also demonstrates a new approach to studying children’s healthy development—instead of focusing on what factors make one group of children different from another, our study asked which factors make individual children more like the best version of themselves.”

While the study had some interesting findings, the researchers acknowledge the study had some limitations. These include potential bias in the surveys filled out by the parents and the fact that the exact skill set required for toothbrushing is undefined. Plus, the study did not account for the toddler’s morning tooth brushing routine. More research is needed on the topic, as the researchers feel they couldn’t prove a causal effect between praise and positive persistence behavior. In the future, the researchers hope to conduct more studies with a larger sample size and discern whether the pandemic had any impact on their data.

save article
Article removed.
Name added. View Your List

Next on Your Reading List

father talking to toddler daughter while playing at home
Early Childhood Parenting Style Could Influence ADHD Severity in Kids
By Wyndi Kappes
toddler painting on bathroom door
Toddler Discipline: Why Toddlers Act Out—and What You Can Do About It
Medically Reviewed by Dina DiMaggio Walters, MD
7 Weird Toddler Behaviors That Are Actually Normal
7 Weird Toddler Behaviors That Are Actually Normal
By Jenna McCarthy
mother and toddler daughter sitting on the couch reading a book together at home
How to Tell if Your Toddler Is Smart
By Nehal Aggarwal
baby sucking thumb while sitting in stroller outside
Why Babies Suck Their Thumbs—and When to Curb the Habit
Medically Reviewed by Dina DiMaggio Walters, MD
toddler girl knocking behind glass back door
How to Deal With Your Child’s Separation Anxiety
By Rachel Morris
father holding baby's hands while walking
These Are the 13 Best States for Babies to Get a Strong Start
By Wyndi Kappes
toddler sitting on couch and having a temper tantrum
Toddler Tantrums: Why They Happen and How to Cope
Medically Reviewed by Dina DiMaggio Walters, MD
close up of baby's eyes
Signs of an Overstimulated Baby (and How to Calm Their System)
Medically Reviewed by Lauren Crosby, MD
toddlers playing side by side
The Different Stages of Play and How They Help Kids Learn
Medically Reviewed by Dina DiMaggio Walters, MD
millennial mother talking to toddler at home
73 Percent of Millennial Moms Share This Parenting Style
By Wyndi Kappes
baby playing alone with toys on the floor
Why Is Solitary Play Important for Babies and Toddlers?
By Lisa Milbrand
toddler touching head in pain
Is Head Banging in Babies and Toddlers Normal?
By Cindy Hovington, PhD
baby lying on pink blanket with tongue out
Pediatrician Goes Viral After Sharing These "Secret" Baby Milestones
By Wyndi Kappes
toddler hugging smiling mom
10 Ways Toddlers Say ‘I Love You’—Without Actually Saying ‘I Love You’
By Lauren Barth
baby with two smiling moms reaching for pet dog
5 Research-Backed Ways Dogs Can Benefit Baby
By Wyndi Kappes
entrance of chuck e cheese's
Chuck E. Cheese Snubs Black Child in Latest Incident of Mascot Racism
By Wyndi Kappes
three proud and confident children smiling outside
How to Raise a Confident Kid
By Nehal Aggarwal
mom toddler son washing dishes in sink
Asking Kids to Be 'Little Helpers' Actually Makes Them Less Likely to Help, Experts Say
By Stephanie Grassullo
Child with special needs and her mom playing with montessori toys.
4 Ways the Montessori Method Can Benefit Children With Special Needs
By Monti Kids Learning Team
Article removed.