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The Secret of Raising Smart Children: Don't Tell Them How Smart They Are!

Every parent wants their children to be smart, but how exactly should one raise a smart kid?

Carol S. Dweck wrote an interesting (though a little long) article for the Scientific American on the secret of raising smart kids: don't tell them how smart they are! Effort, not intelligence or ability, is the key to success in school and life:

In studies involving several hundred fifth graders published in 1998, for example, Columbia psychologist Claudia M. Mueller and I gave children questions from a nonverbal IQ test. After the first 10 problems,
on which most children did fairly well, we praised them. We praised some of them for their intelligence: “Wow … that’s a really good score. You must be smart at this.” We commended others for their effort: “Wow … that’s a really good score. You must have worked really hard.”

We found that intelligence praise encouraged a fixed mind-set more often than did pats on the back for effort. Those congratulated for their intelligence, for example, shied away from a challenging assignment—they wanted an easy one instead—far more often than the kids applauded for their effort. (Most of those lauded for their hard work wanted the difficult problem set from which they would learn.) When we gave everyone hard problems anyway, those praised for being smart became discouraged, doubting their ability. And their scores, even on an easier problem set we gave them afterward, declined as compared with their previous results on equivalent problems. In contrast, students praised for their effort did not lose confidence when faced with the harder questions, and their performance improved markedly on the easier problems that followed.

Link - via I Knew That


AMEN I have worked with "gifted" kids whose parents wanted special programs, special this - special that. Before calling them "gifted" however, you may want to check to see if they can tie their shoes, eat properly or get on the right school bus.
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This goes in line with that one Neatorama article about the Hispanic and Chinese kids in some California town whose differential test scores weren't explained by their parents' income.
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When my son was in the first grade, his teacher said I should have him tested. The result was gifted with Attention Deficit Disorder. I never told him he was gifted. I did try ritalin and gave it up after three months because the wonderful, curious boy I knew and loved had totally disappeared. I focused on helping with his school work and encouraging anything he was passionate about. Computers became that passion after he became bored with geology and meteorology. Today he is aware of his disability and his IQ. At the age of 30, he is highly successful. He maintains his focus by adhering to a regimen of no sugar, no caffeine, and a lot of exercise. In addition, I finally told him at the age of 15 that his IQ was 2 points higher than mine. That was the day I conceded that the argument we were having was won by him.
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Definitely. Same for the other way around..if you tell them a task will be very hard they will go in without confidence and accept adequacy. Children have remarkably flexible brains that have endless possibility if they themselves don't think they are limited/gifted.
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So as in the article, I was one of those kids who tested at a genius-level IQ but got terrible grades. At least in my particular case, this article is so completely wrong it makes me angry. If parents really start treating truly gifted kids like this it would be absolutely TRAGIC.

As I mention, I was a smart kid. I could read (and I mean really read; we have this on Super 8mm film) the newspaper at age 3. The elementary school at which I started was an experimental type where kids got to work at their own pace and 'intelligence' was valued. I did wonderful and thrived.

I later transferred to a rural elementary school, where I had already done that year's curriculum and was moved up a grade. Kids are mean, and I learned to keep my head down and not make a big deal about my accomplishments (as the article so suggests). As in the article, the kids that did the best weren't the brightest ones, but the ones that did the most work. However, downplaying my intelligence in NO way magically dropped me into the category of the average-intelligence, high-effort kids. I instead came to think of myself as not special at all (again, as the article suggests).

As a result, I found myself in a sort of learning Twilight Zone where I wasn't rewarded for my ideas (and even at times berated for them). I was expected to be ridiculously inefficient, expending way more effort than was actually required to learn things.

As a kid though, I sat there thinking, "Why are these jackasses wanting me to do 20 homework questions when I can skip to the last 3 and still understand the concept better than anyone else?". Needless to say, I became completely disillusioned with my education and developed a lack of respect for my teachers.

By high school, I cared enough to avoid complete shame and at least get Cs but found it very difficult to keep interested in the sort of classes that drip information to one in small doses. I had a meeting with teachers where I was practically yelled at for my poor performance and came out of there with even less self-confidence, if that was even possible. I came to find out that a lot of these teachers flat out resented the fact that I scored well on their tests but wouldn't do their homework assignments.

By the time I graduated high school, I was a wreck. A brilliant, genius of a wreck. However, my chosen Big 12 school could literally care less what my GPA was given my far-above-average score on the ACT that I earned as soon as I was eligible to take it my junior year of high school (I never took it again). So, I was off to college.

My first semester in college, I came away with a 0.877 GPA. That's right, IQ of 160 and a GPA so low that one almost has to work for it. I obviously wasn't going to class, but it wasn't because I was a partier. I didn't even drink until I was 21, even. Rather, I stayed holed up in my dorm room distracting myself because I had zero confidence in my ability to perform. Years of bad grades will do this to a person.

I got kicked out of college three times for bad grades. As I matured, I gained a little confidence back and finally completed my Engineering degree. It took me 7 years. If you look at my grade card, I got As in classes like Physics I and II, Thermodynamics, et cetera; on the flip side I flunked freshman English.

I have now been out of school for 6 years. As I sit, I am the successful co-owner (along with my younger brother) of a 4-year-old real estate development and construction firm. The project I'm working on now is a 125,000 square foot, 8-story building downtown. I have an outstanding future ahead of me and the potential to earn all the money I could ever need. I'm also married and a father of two, and lead a very fulfilling family life.

I will be the first to admit that my story is rare. But then again, so are kids like I was. I quite honestly feel that I have beaten the odds given the educational environment in which I was placed.

Modern education generally results in such an incredible waste of talent these days, mainly because it rewards the average effort-maker and punishes the brilliant types. This misguided understanding extends further into the workplace and society as a whole. Our educational system grooms people to be cubicle dwellers and rise through the ranks of the corporate culture, ensuring that the cogs of corporate America continue to grind their way along.

In the meantime, history is rife with examples of those who dropped out, were kicked out, or just plain quit the usual plan and went on to great things. Bill Gates, Harvard drop-out. Warren Buffet was flat turned down from Harvard Business School. And those are just the two wealthiest men in America (where wealth is at least one indisputable measurement of success). Larry Ellison, 14th richest person in the world, dropped out of college as well. The list goes on, and these are NOT COINCIDENCES.

Even more importantly, everyone in the world has benefited from the brilliance of people like this. Those three mentioned above may be poor examples in this sense due to negative perceptions of their wealth, but think of Albert Einstein. Another drop-out. Another drop-out, whose amazing work has touched the lives of nearly every person on this Earth.

(At this point I should note that while I started this writing about myself, I in no way place myself in the same category as those I have begun to mention. I have reclaimed some self-confidence, but I'm not delusional.)

Now, imagine if we had an educational system that took brilliant, maverick, thinking-types out of 'the system' and instead gave them the tools and the environment that they needed to grow. What amazing things that could be done by this critical group if we lifted them up and let them work the way they need to. How much could we all prosper as a result?

To the authors of this study I say, "Effort, my ass". Truly moving things are more often done through sheer brilliance and require very little effort of the rote kind being shoved upon pupils in today's society.

A mindless laborer puts forth a mighty effort but he will not Change The World.
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I dropped out of High School because of the pace. It was just way to slow. Never mind the annoyance of hearing the same questions asked 15 different ways. It is all in the way the brain processes information. I could answer hard math questions, but not tell the teacher how I got the answer. (I later realized I was working off of the laws of averages, and working backwards, but no one would work WITH me to figure out how I thought) Its starting to show in my my son as well, and I'm glad that I can be his mentor when I know the public schools are going to teach the same, boring, bland way when he gets to HS. With his ADHD, praising efforts is just as important as feeding him breakfast in the morning. He is a brilliant little boy, and I indulge him in that fact on occasion, but his best results always come from rewarding effort, not result.
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@Miss Cellania: To be honest, I think that the sort of 'brilliance' I was speaking of is an inborn trait.

@ted: I'm sorry that you chose to make a snarky comment instead of more carefully considering what I have to say. I spent a very long time suffering because I listened to people like you who sought to downplay my achievements. Shove it.
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Plasmator,

I'm glad your story turned out well, but you are lying about your IQ. If you really did have an IQ have 160, you would be at the level of Einstein or Goethe, which I doubt you are. If you actually had that IQ, you would have risen above the system and gone on to solve the world's problems.Instead, you are ranting on Neatorama. Shove it.
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The way you raise smart kids is by raising them as smart people, not talking down to them, giving them lots of manipulatives and puzzles and games and educational toys to play with, and throwing everything at them that they can handle and a few things they can't.

Not every kid is going to be a genius, but most people are pretty damn smart given the right opportunities, environment, and encouragement. Hard work is great, and can pay off. But taking tests isn't everything, and not a very good way to measure how people respond to things like calling them smart or praising their hard effort. If kids are raised to value their own ideas and opinions, they learn to not be focused on what others think of them anyway, and do well at activities for the sake of enjoying the activity itself.
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I don't know. This may apply to some kids, but not to all of them. I used to get frustrated when the dumber kids would get rewarded or praised for their easier work. It can probably backfire if you take this too far. The kid might say, "Well, if I'm not going to get any recognition, why bother?"

Smart kids need to be challenged and not held back. I think that (and the boredom factor) ultimately has more to do with how smart they turn out.
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@Greg2: The overall proportion of people with an IQ greater than or equal to 160 is 1 in 30,000. If you're going to shoot your mouth off, fine...but at least make sure the thing is loaded.
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Wow, Plasmator.

Instead of making a snarky comment now, why don't I give you a valuable tip? The longer you take to say something, the less of an audience you're going to have. I chose not to read your 18 mind-numbingly self-absorbed paragraphs.

In comparison... naw, forget it. You're not listening, anyways. You just can't teach some people.
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plasmator. Good 160 IQ troll.

However, it's kind of sad. You should be solving the world's problems; designing the hadron collider, solving the unified field theory, finding a cure for cancer/aids/ADHD, designing the next great architectural triumph.

Instead you are building strip malls for money. Anyone with a sub 100 IQ could slap up a "condo on the top/retail on the bottom" structure. If you are happy, then congrats to you, but don't go around bragging about your IQ, because I guarantee it your friends make fun of you behind your back about it, especially considering your career choice.
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Wow, any of you feel like bashing ppl much? Plasmator, I completely understand and feel your pain. I am not sure what my IQ is but I'm am quite confident that it ranks pretty above average. I too encountered alot of what you mentioned. To Ted, maybe you're just pissed because you get side tracked after reading several typed paragraphs, oh I don't know, it's just the way books and magazines are written. Maybe read one and you would find that being gifted and having social issues that come along with it is somewhat frequent. It's ppl like Ted and Asdfasfd that make it all the more difficult, especially as adults!

Perhaps Plasmator is doing what he wants to do in life, that what it sounds like to me. Just because you are very intelligent doesn't mean that you have some lofty goal of being a scientist or creating the biggest company. I know I have no interest in either.

Perhaps you can take away the main idea from his story without being a jealous douche; gifted kids encounter difficulties that alot of other folks will simply not recognize or simply ignore.

Plasmator, I'm glad you are happy and comfortable with your life! Keep learning the things that interest you! More people should be happy in their own skins instead of wishing to be Bill Gates or Warren Buffett!
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I appreciate all the interesting points of view represented here. I do want to say that I absolutely agree with the cornerstone of this article. Effort and overcoming challenges are a much more effective focus than intelligence.
Plasmator's whole response is actually proof, not contradiction, to this theory. The view that he gives that effort = meaningless boring work is not at all what the author was trying to express. Effort means continuing to work and put forth energy and thought even when something is challenging. Therefore, if "busy work" or 50 homework questions are not a challenge to a student with a high IQ, then they should have a challenge that meets their needs that they can put effort into. A truly intelligent person, I feel, can find their own challenges rather than require others to challenge them, at least as a young adult.
Our educational system targets the average student. That is the nature of education in America. We have great supplementary programs and private schools to further develop gifted students, but public education as a whole is not built to address the needs of these students.
It's awesome if you are able to find a teacher who can enlighten and challenge that bored gifted student but a truly intelligent student should be able to challenge themselves. Intelligence means nothing if it is not utilized for a purpose.
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