Friday, December 07, 2007

The secret to raising smart kids

According to over thirty years of research, the secret is, in a nutshell, don't tell them they are smart. Focusing on effort, rather than ability, is what enables success in study and, more broadly, life.

Now this seems to me to be totally logical and common sense. As a teacher, I do this all the time. When a student has shown improvement, I tell them they must have worked very hard to achieve their results and that if they keep working at that level, they will continue to improve at a great rate.

However, when it comes to Elijah, I find I'm praising him for being "clever" much more often than for making an effort. Now I'm pretty sure that he is clever. But I don't want him growing up, not being able to cope with challenges in life. I've known brilliantly clever people who have ended up achieving far below their potential because they were just crippled by self-doubt and fear of failure. I don't want Elijah to be one of these people.

It's very difficult though, to praise a toddler for a concerted effort. Obviously, Elijah is constantly attempting new things and, as is natural for a child of his age, is improving all his skills. Does he understand the concept of effort? Does he even understand the concept of clever? He most likely has a positive association with the word "clever" because of the facial expression and tone used when it is said.

Are we setting our child up for future failure, or is it far too early to be concerned about setting him into a mind-set about intelligence and achievement?

At the very least, the article has illuminated the language that I use around and to Elijah and made me think about the possible consequences of my parental enthusiasm.


OC or Q said...

Tell him he's a good thinker. (That implies effort.) Tell him he did a good job. Tell him his effort "paid off." Tell him your proud of what he accomplished.

A child develops his/her self-concept very early from the way their family -- the most significant "others" in their life treat them.

For the first several years of my life I was sent the message that I am not terribly bright. Nothing since then -- straight A's, scholarships, academic awards, or professional recognition -- has changed my perception. Even after I graduated at the top of my class (college) I kept waiting to be told it was all a mistake. And to this day I doubt myself all the way down the line.


The Mumma said...

Thanks, Quilly.

And I think you're terribly clever too.

anastasia_wolf said...

I don't like the word "good". It is a value judgement based on arbitrary assignations of what we think of as "good". Read Alfie Kohn if you want more on that. But yes, that article describes me very well. Nothing is scarier to a person who has been praised for being effortlesly intelligent than coming up against something challenging that they cannot solve instantly - it makes you feel like a fraud and I constantly struggled with this during uni.

When Kira does something she is proud of my response it usually "you did it!" or "you did xyz!" Often she tells me what she's done and she can tell by my reaction that I'm pleased for her. I do sometimes say well done but I avoid that as being fairly meaningless too but sometimes you really do just burst with pride and have to say something that reflects that!

I could go on and on but Alfie says it better than I can LOL.