As a teacher, I can assure you one thing: every child is smart. They possess such intellectual capacities that simply amazed me every single day. Children are full of surprises, and the biggest surprise for me was how smart they really are.
And somehow, I could see some children becoming smarter, and some remaining within some kind of comfort zone that didn’t allow them to grow as the other ones. As time passed, the gap in intellectual performance was so big, that I had to dedicate individual time to those who seemed to be falling behind.
Of course, I felt that I must have had a part in it, but when I started analyzing this division more deeply, I noticed a pattern which was always there: the ‘smarter’ were the ones who were trying hard, while those who were falling behind were the ones who were afraid to try, or who thought that their achievements were somehow still relevant.
And now it’s all become very clear: their mindsets were different by far. As Carol Dweck, a professor of psychology at Stanford University says, the achievers had the ‘growth’ mindset, while those falling behind had a ‘fixed’ mindset, which rooted them somewhere back and didn’t allow them to be courageous of growth.
I have always strived to praise growth and not focus on how ‘intelligent’ a student was because I knew that they were all very intelligent. But it seems that as a teacher, I could do very little during that limited time I had with them.
In this game, a lot more is required than the way we teachers interact with the children. Not trying to toss any kind of blame here, the parents were the main influencers in the way their children saw themselves in the world:
The born-to-be-smart children, and those who were born to grow. These two very different approaches to our abilities are what makes the difference between success and ultimate failure.
The fixed mindset, which is the result of the praise of one child’s intelligence and capabilities, made these children fear failure and stick to what they can do, instead of trying to do what seems impossible.
These children were taught to stick to their innate ‘achievement’ of being smart and capable, and they are afraid of ruining that image they were so praised for. And of course, if you don’t live up to the ideal that you are perfect (by making a mistake), then the praise would diminish and disappear.
So, these children have grown into being adults full of anxiety and fear of failure, because they wouldn’t be called ‘smart’ then, would they? Simply, praising your child for the intelligence they possess is encouraging them to stay within the comfort zone that calls for that praise – and they will never try to creatively combine their knowledge of success and failure to become even more successful.
They will become adults who think that they should be still praised because they were born smart – which in reality is never the case. Even the greatest minds in the world would have been nobody if they had not failed a thousand times and succeeded in the end. They would have not even emerged to be recognized (because they were born smart).
Growth through trial and error, the ability to combine your capabilities and intelligence – this is what makes a person truly successful. This has made the greatest minds of all time truly greatest.
And this is something every child can become through the growth mindset. Through the praise of their effort, and not of how ‘smart’ they are (because, one way or another, they are all smart)!
So, next time, if you see that a certain task for your child is easy to achieve, don’t praise them on how smart they were – give them something more challenging, something they can truly learn from.
Praise them for their efforts and don’t focus too much on whether they’re going to succeed every time. Instead, focus on how much effort they put into it and what led them to fail, so that they can learn from their experience and improve.
Intelligence is the basis upon which we grow – the tool we use for growth. It’s simple: don’t praise the computer because it’s a computer – praise it because it can do so many things.
Our minds are computers, full of potentials that can be developed and built upon. If you praise your child’s mind because they were born with such wonderful complexity, you are not encouraging them to put it to good use.
So, they’ll just hug their brain and make sure that it is praiseworthy because of its processing abilities, and they will always try to stick to keeping that ‘good image’ by not spoiling it with mistakes.
Do you want your child to grow into a successful person, or do you want someone who sticks to the vanity of possessing a tool which mustn’t show any flaws? Praise them for the effort and challenge them with every new task.
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