Don’t tell your kids they’re smart: Part 1 of 2

Don't tell your kids they're smartRecently, I’ve been reading quite a bit about cultivating talent in kids and the ins and outs of praising them for the things they do. Whoever thought it was so complicated? Or is it? “You’re the best!”, “You’re so smart!”, “OMG! You did that without even practicing!”, These are phrases we throw around like a kid loves throwing water balloons at her siblings. What does that do? The culprit

has fun throwing the water balloon and the victim seems to enjoy the play at first, but quickly gets irritated because he is now cold, wet, and feels the need of vengence growing inside him…stress! The whole water balloon thing does not go well. Yes, telling your kids they are smart does not necessarily go well, either. And here’s why.

Dr. Carol Dweck, the Lewis and Virginia Eaton Professor of Psychology at Stanford University, and a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, ran a series of experiments to see how praise impacts children. Dweck took 400 New York 5th graders and gave them a test that consisted of fairly easy puzzles. The goal was to see how much a tiny signal-a single sentence of praise-can affect performance and effort, and what kind of signal is most effective.

First, Dweck gave the kids the test and after the test, she told half the participants that they did very well and praised them for their intelligence by saying, “You must be very smart”. And to the other half, she praised them for their effort, and told them, “You must have worked really hard”.

The kids were tested a second time. This time they were given a choice between a harder test and an easier test. Ninety percent of the kids who’d been praised for their effort picked the harder test. A majority of the kids who’d been praised for their intelligence chose the easier test. This is because when we praise children for their intelligence, we tell them that’s the name of the game: look smart, don’t risk making mistakes.

The kids were then tested a third time and this one was a lot harder than the first 2 tests. None of the kids did well. However, here’s the interesting part and the one that you want to pay real close attention to. The kids that were praised for their effort (“You must’ve worked really hard”) dug in deeper and became very involved with the test.They tried various solutions, tested strategies and really made the effort. And they later said they liked it. But the group praised for its intelligence hated the harder test. They took it as proof that they weren’t smart after all!

I’ll inform you more on this topic next week. In the meantime, let us know in the comments below how you praise your kids and how you’ll change the way you’ll motivate your kids after reading this article.

Here’s part 2 of this post.

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  1. Pingback: Don’t tell your kids they’re smart: Part 2 of 2 | Children's Photography in Orange County

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