In Nurture Shock, a whole chapter was devoted to the fact that if you tell your child he’s smart, it will be his undoing. In Brain Rules for Baby, we were warned again to praise effort, not intelligence:
“Kids praised for effort complete 50 percent more hard math problems than kids praised for intelligence.”
The message is loud and clear, and it is a rule that isn’t hard for most parents can follow once we learn to adjust the way we speak to our children.
But that isn’t the problem.
The problem is the many other people that your child meets who instinctively tell him he’s smart.
Everywhere we go, people are telling Gavin (and Gareth, too!) – “Oh, you’re such a clever boy!” The praise comes so easily and freely even when they haven’t done anything “clever”. Just for being there, they can be praised for being so smart. I’ve already told family members to reserve smart comments and focus on effort, but how do you stop random strangers telling your children they are smart? As much as I would like to tell them where they can send their praise, it is not in my nature to be caustic because that would be plain rude. I have to remind myself that they don’t know what the science says, smile politely and walk away, but that doesn’t change the fact that my boys have heard that they are smart.
What can you do? Well, if these people are close enough to you, you can explain the science to them. Unfortunately, more often than not, it is the sales lady at the supermarket, or the waiter at the restaurant that offer such praise. Besides, the damage has already been done. You cannot protect your children from smart praise because for many people, it is a means for making conversation – if you can’t think of something to say, just tell the kids they are so smart. Unless you keep your child in a bubble, he will be told again and again that he is smart.
Bed Time Chats
I often have a little bed time chat with Gavin about important lessons in life I want him to remember. I find that devoting a special time of the day when there are no other distractions is a good time to raise important topics you want your child to be aware about. Lately, I’ve been talking to him about the importance of working hard and studying hard. I also address the praise he often hears from others about being smart and remind him that it is because he has worked hard to learn these things. I talk about the brain being a muscle that needs exercise to become stronger and I tell him it is okay to make mistakes because that is how we learn.
After he has fallen asleep, I use Shichida’s 5 minute suggestion (which appears to be similar to the concept of autosuggestion which you can read more about from Coachmi) to reinforce my message to him.
Is it enough to undo the ill-effects of smart praise? I honestly don’t know. But I’m sure it is better than doing nothing.
What do you do to minimise the effects of others praising your children for being “clever”?