Do you tell your children that they are smart?

As parents and teachers, we play a crucial role in developing our children’s attitude towards learning. We all want our children to have a positive attitude in life, and that begins with a positive impression of themselves. This leads us to tell them that they are smart, intelligent and so forth. What we may not realize is that this sort of praise may have unintended results that may shape their outlook towards not only learning but also practically everything they encounter in life. This is because they come to identify their accomplishments as an outcome of their ‘smartness’ or ‘intelligence’, which is perceived as something that they have in some amount. They expect that ‘that thing they have’ should be enough for them to succeed in whatever they attempt. 

What we have done is to define them in their own eyes in terms of something they possess and in terms of something they are capable of. Their accomplishments become a reflection of the ‘amount’ of smartness or intelligence they possess. So, one day if they cannot do something new well enough, they think it is because they are ‘not smart enough’ or ‘not intelligent enough’. This ‘fixed mindset’ begins to holds them back in attempting anything beyond what they think their ‘intelligence’ will allow them to accomplish. 

Watch Sal Khan, Founder of Khan Academy talk to Carol Dweck, who coined the term growth mindset to explain an individual's implicit views of where ability comes from.

Sal Khan talks to Carol Dweck




As Carol Dweck explains in the video, “Kids who are praised for their intelligence do not want to challenge themselves or work harder on something. And, if they have difficulty in something, that is it”. 

On the other hand when you tell your child that she accomplished something because of the effort she put into learning it and how she approached the task, how she did not give up when she was faced with obstacles, she develops the confidence in her ability to learn new things, tackle new challenges and keep improving herself. She is not fazed when she faces something she doesn’t know how to do. She knows she can learn how to do it. She knows that her smartness or her intelligence can grow.

On the other hand, according to Carol Dweck, “when parents and teachers praise the effort of the child, their process, their strategies, their ideas, their focus and their perseverance, they learn that these are the ingredients of success. If it gets harder, we will do these and we will succeed.”

So, it becomes extremely important as to what kind of praise we choose to direct at our children if we want them to develop into someone who believe that they may not know the answer to everything but they can sure try to find them; someone who believes that they are learning when they make a mistake. That, when they fail at something, it is not a reflection of who they are but only an indication that they haven’t mastered it yet.

And they know they can.