Telling students that they’re smart is a mistake I make all the time. While most of us think that this sort of praise will encourage students to work harder and perform better, it actually has the opposite effect.
Praising kids for being smart can actually cause them to behave in really foolish ways. “Kids who were praised for their intelligence tended to avoid challenges. Instead, they preferred easy tasks. They were also more interested in their competitive standing--how they measured up relative to others--than they were in learning how to improve their future performance.” Because they were praised so heavily for being smart, these kids subconsciously viewed their intelligence as something “fixed”, therefore, they tended not to learn from their mistakes. They also spent more time comparing themselves to others, instead of thinking of how they could improve, because in their minds, they were as smart as they could ever be.
Kids who are praised for their intelligence are likely to view their failures as a sign of low intelligence. This was a huge problem for me as a child. I excelled at almost everything in school, but when I couldn’t grasp something so easily, I took that as a sign that I wasn’t as smart as I thought. I came from a high-praise family who expected me to perform well because I could. When I started to get anxious about failing, I tended to avoid assignments, or put them off for long periods of time, scrambling to complete this later. Children who are praised for their intelligence often have these problems, and if they’re not addressed, they could carry over into adulthood.
A better option for parents is to commend a child’s work ethic. When students hear phrases like, “That was tough, but you didn’t give up and you worked hard,” they tend to perform better, because they view their intelligence as something that is able to be developed through hard work, learning new skills, and trying different options. Kids who are praised for their work ethic are less likely to shy away from challenges, because they are able to recognize that their brains are dynamic, not static.
As tempting as it can be, try not to praise your child for their intelligence. Instead, point out other qualities about how they work and think. This will help them develop a more positive attitude and elevate their self esteem.