You've probably already heard by now that you shouldn't praise your kids for being smart. It might seem encouraging to applaud your child's intelligence, but tons of research -- much of it spearheaded by Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck -- shows that doing so makes kids fearful of taking risks or pursuing tough goals that might make them feel less than brilliant at first.
If you want to raise kids with real grit, this same science shows, the right approach is to foster "a growth mindset," or a belief that our mental capabilities aren't fixed and can grow with effort. In short, you want don't want to tell your kids that they're smart. You want to tell them they can get smarter if they try hard.
Just praising effort isn't enough
All of this seems pretty straightforward, yet Dweck recently complained that her work has been widely misunderstood and that many well intentioned parents and educators are going about instilling a growth mindset all wrong. How are they messing up the message?
Many parents interpret Dweck's work as simply recommending they praise kids' efforts. So if little Jenny or Johnie got a D on his math quiz, you should respond with something like, "At least you did your best," or "Try harder next time and I'm sure you'll do better."
But these sort of bland, "A for effort!" responses miss the point, Dweck told Quartz's Jenny Anderson recently. Instead of offering empty praise for effort, parents "need a learning reaction--'what did you do?', 'what can we do next?'" she told Anderson.
Overall, if you want to raise resilient kids, the key is "teaching kids that their brains are like muscles that can be strengthened through hard work and persistence. So rather than saying 'Not everybody is a good at math. Just do your best,' a teacher or parent should say 'When you learn how to do a new math problem, it grows your brain.' Or instead of saying 'Maybe math is not one of your strengths,' a better approach is adding 'yet' to the end of the sentence: 'Maybe math is not one of your strengths yet,'" the article explains. (As a side note, the 'yet' trick works for managers too.)
The bottom line is that you shouldn't just praise effort; you should praise effort because it leads somewhere, stressing that simply trying isn't the point. Your kids should try hard because putting in that effort will make them smarter and better at whatever they put their minds to.
Interested in learning more about Dweck's research and the incredible power of a growth mindset? Check out the Quartz article for many more details. Or, if you're looking to instill a growth mindset in yourself rather than your little ones, Dweck has offered great advice on developing the right mindset for success elsewhere.