Parents and teachers have always been told that they should praise children so the kids do not get discouraged when they are learning something. However, just by observations and from studies done, too much praise is also bad for the kids. And the most common praise is to tell them that kids are smart.
Why can’t adults praise their kids for being smart?
A study published in Psychological Science analysed the effects of calling children smart and another study done on the effect of praise on students by psychologist Carol Dweck showed that labelling children as smart may make the kids reluctant to put in more effort into activities they aren’t naturally good at.
This is because kids who are always praised for being smart will do anything to keep up the appearances of being smart such as cheating in games or exams if they have to. Kids cheat because they haven’t learned how to manage failure.
The problem goes deeper when parents ignore a child’s failures and insist the child will do better next time. This makes children think that their failure is such a terrible thing that even the family can’t acknowledge it. A child that isn’t allowed the opportunity to discuss mistakes can’t learn from them.
“When we praise children for their intelligence, we tell them that this is the name of the game: Look smart, don’t risk making mistakes,” Dweck wrote in her study summary.
On another worrying note, kids who are praised for being smart are not only competitive but are just keen to tear other people down.
In another study analysed by New York Magazine, the study tested the difference between praising a child on their smarts versus their efforts. The study concluded with the kids who believed they were smart did not feel the need to put in effort into the subjects they excelled at. This also explains why there are many adults today who stick to activities that come easily to them and are hesitant to try new things.
A Father’s Account
If the studies don’t convince parents, here’s an account from a father. Thomas’s dad thought praising his son for being smart will give him the confidence to try new things but the opposite happened. When Thomas faced a challenge such as a difficulty in spelling or fractions, he just outright refused to do the schoolwork.
“Thomas didn’t want to try things he wouldn’t be successful at. Some things came very quickly to him, but when they didn’t, he gave up almost immediately, concluding, ‘I’m not good at this,’” says Thomas’s dad.
Does this mean adults have to stop praising children?
In the same study done by Dweck, the group that was praised for their effort instead of smarts did better. When the two groups were given another tougher test, the group that was praised for effort earlier were much more willing to try out new solutions.
The group that was praised for being smart? “Just watching them, you could see the strain. They were sweating and miserable,” says Dweck. This is because they assumed their failure showed that they weren’t as smart as they were led to believe.
According to Dweck, praising a child’s effort rather than smartness gives a child a variable that they can control.
“They come to see themselves as in control of their success. Emphasizing natural intelligence takes it out of the child’s control, and it provides no good recipe for responding to a failure.”
The takeaway from this is to allow children to make mistakes and do not blame or reprimand them during discussions. Instead, praise them for their efforts and guide them in areas where they can improve and the ways they can do it step by step.
For a comprehensive discussion, get the full story at New York Magazine.