Studies show praising children for their hard work is better than praising them for being smart.
For parents, though, it’s natural to get excited when your child makes the honor roll or gets all As on a report card. You want to let everyone know how brilliant your kids are. But it seems you’re actually hindering them when you heap on the praise for this reason.
Instead, we should be telling them how proud we are of their hard work.
When children see parents become overjoyed at a grade or other recognition for their intelligence, they come to believe their accomplishments came to them because of what they already have.
In other words, they think, “I’m naturally smart. I didn’t do anything to get this high grade.”
Studies going back decades consistently show kids who are praised for being smart ended up performing poorly academically.
A more recent study published in Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience by Jennifer A. Mangels reinforced the findings. She and her team of researchers asked a sample of undergraduate student questions about intelligence, including if they believed people have a certain amount of intelligence which couldn’t be changed.
Those that agreed with the statement that a person’s amount of intelligence can’t be changed were put into the group where they were said to have a “fixed” or “entity” view of intelligence.
Those that disagreed were put into the group where they were said to have an “incremental” or “growth” view. They believed there were ways to increase intelligence.
Then, all the students had to take a computerized test on a variety of subjects while their brain activity was being monitored. During the test, they also had to indicate how confident they were in their answers. If their answer was right, the computer let them know. If an answer was wrong, the computer gave the right answer.
Students were then given an opportunity to retake the test, but only the questions they answered incorrectly.
Both groups did equally well and were equally confident for the first testing. But for the second round of testing, the “growth” view group did better. The brain activity records showed that this group had paid more attention to the corrections they were given, and were better able to learn from their mistakes.
Because they believed they could perform better, they paid attention and learned the right answers.
If you tend to think that intelligence is fixed, consider this: studies have shown a person’s IQ is improved through education and training programs. Even environmental factors can contribute to gains in intelligence.
If you can convince yourself that intelligence can be improved, your attitude will pass that to your children. Above all, they need to hear hard work is the key to performing well – not the luck of the IQ draw.