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.