Don’t tell kids they’re smart

This article from New York Magazine has some very interesting information on telling kids that they are smart.

Here’s the problem, kids who are told that they are smart internalize that to mean that they are supposed to be instantly good at things. If they aren’t good at it, they don’t want to do it. They give up on things they think they won’t do well at, because they think not doing it right the first time is a sign of failure and of not being smart. Kids who were praised for their intelligence want to look smart. They don’t want to take risks trying new things that they may not do as well at.

On the other hand, kids who are praised for the effort they put in, regardless of how well they do, internalize that effort is needed. They are more willing to try more difficult things, while their “smart” classmates try to avoid the harder work.

One example is a group of students who were randomly put into two groups: one gets praise on intelligence, the other gets praise on effort. Afterwards, they are given an option to do a similar task again, or a harder one. The intelligence praise group mostly wanted to do the similar task, so as to look smart. The effort praise group mostly wanted to do the harder task.

Kids who are praised for being smart feel that they should do well always, without having to try hard. They feel that if they have to work hard to succeed, then it means that they aren’t really smart, that they’re a failure. These kids are more likely to resort to cheating to avoid doing poorly that kids who are praised for the effort they put in.

And intermittent praise is better than constant praise. This teaches kids that there may be dry spells, but they can get the praise if they continue working.

This can be hard for us as parents and teachers. But it works. Praise the effort. It will lead to more resilient children who are more willing to try the harder things, and set loftier goals for themselves.

2 thoughts on “Don’t tell kids they’re smart

  1. I really related to this article as one who was frequently told how smart I was and who DID avoid trying anything at which I wasn’t positive I could succeed. I was not avoiding hard work, but I was afraid of failure and missed out on great learning opportunities because of this.

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