My son’s piano teacher once praised him when I picked him up from class.
“He is so smart,” she said.
I replied, “Yes, he picks up piano rather quickly because he has a keen interest and he takes the effort to practice.”
Then she said, “No, he is so smart he doesn’t even need to try very hard!”
I actually dislike people praising my children saying that they are “so clever” and “so smart.”
You must think me nuts. Why?
Because they didn’t do anything to deserve such praise. Why should being smart be praise worthy? Having “smarts” is not something they can do much about. Getting praise too often about their “smarts” makes them think that they are born that way and they are gifted. They will soon start to think that they need not try very hard and, worst, they behave in ways to avoid failure. For example, they will choose easy tasks and avoid challenging ones. Some will even cheat just so that stay ahead.
Why? Because if they fail, they will no longer be praised as “clever” or “smart” anymore. Because if they were “smart,” they shouldn’t need to try so hard. Protecting the “smart” label becomes paramount.
In other words, they begin to handicap themselves in more ways in their lives than school. Is this what we want to condition them to do?
Don’t get me wrong. I believe we are all uniquely talented in specific ways. I believe that is so that we serve a unique purpose and mission in our lives. But without proper nurturing of such talent and coupling it with effort, such giftedness will amount to nothing.
So, on the other hand, I’d much rather praise be directed at a child’s efforts.
I’d much prefer a “well done,” “good job,” “you must have practiced hard,” “you did well because you put in effort.”
This way, they will try harder, try a different way, get feedback, improve and get better results. They can have much more control over the kind of effort they want to put into something rather than the “cleverness” that they supposedly possess.