Why not to tell a child they're 'really smart'


After hearing Stanford University Professor Carol Dweck speak about her research on how different types of praise can help or hinder future 'success' at the Happiness Conference, I went on a bit of a google frenzy. Turns out it had received some media coverage, but somehow I'd missed it. In case you did too, here's a s short recap......if you have kids or spend time around them, this is useful info to know.

What do you attribute your success to? It matters...

Stanford University Professor Carol Dweck has found that the beliefs people hold about the reasons for their accomplishments have a major impact on what they do in the future.  For example if you attribute your achievements to innate ability, you are far less likely to work at developing your skills further.  However if you attribute success to qualities that are within your control, the opposite is true.

“When children perform  a task, some are praised for ability: ‘you’re really smart. ” Some are praised for the process they’ve engaged in: their strategy, their effort ,  their focus, their perseverance: ‘You worked really hard,” Dweck explains. “What we have found in study after study is that ability praise backfires.”

“We were told in the positive psychology movement that ability praise would make kids happy, and it does… for a moment…” she says.

 “Ability praise puts kids into a fixed mindset and as soon as the path becomes difficult they start becoming unhappy, disengaging and becoming less and less effective in their problem solving. But those who receive process praise go into more of a growth mindset and their engagement becomes more vigorous as the problems get harder.”

Children with a fixed mindset say that if they struggle when they’re applying effort, it makes them feel dumb.

“They think if they were really smart they wouldn’t have to try hard and they wouldn’t be experiencing difficulty,” Dweck says. 

In growth mindset training, children learn that the brain can be developed and they can ‘grow their intelligence.’ They're taught that when they apply effort and persist even though they are experiencing difficulty, they grow new neuron connections in their brain, which can help them become smarter.

When year 7 students who were showing declining skills in math learned this growth mindset they became more engaged and rebounded—and importantly, enjoyed learning more than they had before.

Tip: When you hear a young person say 'I'm not good at ______' Dweck suggests fostering growth mindset with the addition of one simple word: Yet.

More info: 

Carol Dweck outlines her research and philosophy in much more detail in her book Mindset: http://mindsetonline.com/

This article from 2010 offers a great unbiased review of Dweck's research, outlining findings from other researchers that challenge some of her generalisations. http://chronicle.com/article/Carol-Dwecks-Attitude/65405/