My father-in-law is a very intelligent man. Sunday dinners are always full of knowledge filled conversation. If you have an obscure question, no need to search the internet, he will most likely know the answer. However, he always tells stories about how as a child he did not live to his fullest potential because he knew he was too smart. His parents and teachers were always telling him how smart he was. So, he says that knowing he was naturally intelligent, he stopped working hard and didn’t try. That became the problem.
His story always stuck with my husband and I. Then my husband read a book about this very topic. We began to alter the way we approached praise in our house. The book discussed exactly what my father- in-law had explained. Children who are constantly told how smart they are may at some point stop trying. They may feel that they don’t have to study like other children because they are “smart”. They may also decide to not attempt to tackle things that are too challenging where they may fail. A child who is constantly told they are smart will not want to disappoint adults and taint their image.
Our approach has always been to praise our children for their efforts and not label them as smart. Our son has done very well in kindergarten and first grade, but who is to say that he will not have challenges in later years. We want him to learn how to study despite having things come easy. We want him to learn the value of hard work and the benefits or giving his all. Here are some of the approaches we use:
Praise your children on how hard they studied. When your child comes home with a 100% on a spelling test. Instead of saying, “Wow, honey great job, you are so smart.” you can say, “wow, we are so proud of how hard you studied to get that 100%, great job.” This will tell your child that you are proud of them but proud of how hard they worked to do well.
Praise kids on not giving up when things are difficult. Some weeks my son comes home with spelling words that he can outright spell before we even start studying. I have him review and study them anyway. Other weeks, there are words that are more challenging and he actually has to study to learn them in time for Friday’s spelling test. I always take this opportunity to point out how his hard work throughout the week benefited him and explain to him that his is efforts are a direct reflection of the grade he achieved. If he put in minimal effort, and did not do so well, I help him understand that his low grade is a reflection of his lack of effort.
Praise your children on learning a new topic and paying attention in class. Studies have shown that children who know and understand that intelligence can be developed, fair better than those that believe you are either born smart or not. Explain to your child that the brain is a muscle and like all muscles the more you use it the bigger it gets. The more he or she learns and studies the more intelligent they will be.
Praise your child on improving. The effort to get better at something is so important and should never be overlooked. The effort that your child puts forth is what will get them through subjects as they get more difficult in later grades.
Yes, you should definitely praise your child and build their self esteem. You just have to choose your words differently. Instead of just throwing out a blanket statement about everything they do and telling them they are smart, just praise their efforts and tell them they have done well. By following these steps your praise may not sabotage your child’s effort and performance.