There has been much research published regarding the negative effects of praising a child’s intellect. However, go into most schools and homes and listen to the way teachers and parents interact with children.

“You’re so smart!”

“I think you must be a genius!”  etc.

Teacher and StudentsEven though the adults’ intentions are good and they think they are boosting confidence in the youngsters they are praising, several studies have shown that just the opposite is happening. According to Dr. Carol Dweck, children who repeatedly hear they are smart don’t see the need to expend any effort since intelligence is really out of their control.  When they fail, they don’t know how to respond. On the other hand, children who hear very specific praise regarding their effort are able to take on more difficult challenges without the fear of failing.

Psychologist Wulf-Uwe Meyer found that by the age of twelve, children believe that earning praise from a teacher is not a sign you did well – it’s actually a sign you lack ability and the teacher thinks you need extra encouragement. He found that teens discounted praise to such an extent that they believe it’s a teacher’s criticism rather than praise that conveys a positive belief in a student’s aptitude.

My encouragement for teachers and parents is to listen to the way we praise our students/children. Praise is most effective when it is sincere and specific.  When we target effort, we are boosting the self-confidence of kids and they will take on even more demanding tasks. When we repeatedly draw attention to a child’s intelligence through our praise, we may be inadvertently setting them up to do whatever is in their power to maintain the image of being smart. As a result,  they may never attempt taking a hard class where they might not “look” smart, or persevere through an activity that they can’t easily master without sustained mental effort.