The Problem With Praising Children’s Intelligence

Here’s an interesting article that may change the way you praise your children’s performance in school.

The Pitfalls Of Labeling Children ‘Gifted And Talented’

Jessica, our “Ask the Organizer” columnist, sent me the link to that article and I thought it really made sense.

The article states:

…complimenting children for their intelligence and academic performance may lead them to believe that good test scores and high grades are more important than learning and mastering something new.

Dr. Dweck, lead author of the study, claims:

“Praising children’s intelligence, far from boosting their self-esteem, encourages them to embrace self-defeating behaviors, such as worrying about failure and avoiding risks,” she notes. “However, when children are taught the value of concentrating, strategizing, and working hard when dealing with academic challenges, this encourages them to sustain their motivation, performance, and self-esteem.”

For Janice and I, this theory proved to be exactly right.

When we were growing up, our parents put an extremely high value in grades and constantly praised our academic performance. They obviously only meant to encourage and reward our successes, but we both became over-achievers with straight A’s and an enormous fear of failure.

I am glad to have read this article and I will try and alter the way I approach praising Jackson’s and Julia’s intelligence.

The article isn’t long… read it over and let us know what you think.

Do you think it is accurate? Will reading it affect how you praise and motivate your children in the future?


  1. says

    I also was one of the overachiever, straight A students. I have to admit I wasn’t praised for it, so maybe that is why I don’t have a fear of failure? I am a very independent, confident person.

    My brother always had a hard time in school and he was praised if he got a C. I remember asking why my parents didn’t make a big deal when I had all A’s, and they said that was just expected of me. They knew what we were each capable of.

    With my kids now, we emphasize more about being a kid right now, but I do praise Noah when he TRIES and makes a good effort with his school work (he’s only in kindergarten!) But, he’s a little behind most of the kids in his class, and I know what he’s capable of, and won’t push him or praise him beyond that right now.

  2. says

    I thought that was an excellent article; thanks for the link. I agree with conclusions of the study. I became an overachiever myself because of my parents’ constant praise of good grades (just like you two). But somewhere along the line I learned that the effort was often more important than the result. And that’s what I tell kids now.

  3. says

    Thank you for pointing us toward this study. My husband talked about this after I read your post this morning – I think it’s an excellent reminder. High expectations are very important as well, but we may need to tweak our message a bit to make sure we’re not raising overachievers.

    Pass the Torch

  4. says

    Our society is like that. In my home – my parents had four children. And we are all so very different. How we learn and how we reflect ourselves.

    My brother was very very smart in school. I struggled with academics. My wise parents never praised us according to our report card results but i still struggled to feel accepted in this area. Because everything around me said, “If you don’t score at a certain level – you are not as important”.

    I think our school systems need work in this area. Some kids are slackers – that is why their test scores are lower but not all kids are academic. Not all kids learn this way and not all express themselves this way either. We’re all different “snowflakes” and we have different giftings.

    Great post!

  5. says

    When I was in school, I didn’t have to put much effort into getting good grades. Staying at the top of the class was a bigger concern to me than learning, and I saw that as a sort of game because school itself was so boring. Doing additional projects in the gifted classroom helped me better appreciate learning for its own sake. Later on when some subjects were more challenging to grasp, I panicked, as I had never really developed good study habits and was so afraid of failing that I couldn’t focus on anything else.

    I suspect my young daughter could be gifted, but it’s mostly a passing thought at this point. As a homeschooling family, we can work with her one on one at the pace that’s right for her as well as the depth, so that label isn’t important.

  6. says

    I have a complex that I can’t do anything right (especially with others looking on) because I’m just “dumb” or a clutz. I don’t remember any specifics about my parents “praising me” for being smart or whatever (even though I was in an “academically gifted” class in the 6th grade for a while – I think it was too much pressure – I didn’t last long in there). So I don’t know if it was the way I was brought up or just some natural perfectionistic quality of mine, but I do feel very pressured and often disappointed in myself when I can’t do things right and feel too “stupid” to learn how.
    I would have to agree with this article. We think (as every parent does about their child) that our little girl is extremely bright at age 2. Of course, we say “You’re so smart!” We started telling her that (and teaching her the sign for it – silly us!) long ago. She went through a stage where she would say or sign, “I smart.” Hm. *red flag* We knew we should rethink that whole approach, so we would “counter” with something about how many other smart people there are in the world.
    Now after reading this article, it’s all fallen into place. This will definitely affect the way I “praise and reward” our daughter. I’ll ask my husband to read it too.
    Thanks for sharing!

  7. says

    I’m definitely going to have to read that article. It’s so hard to know how to praise your children but make sure you are not making them feel as if they are failures if they don’t achieve straight As, or do something that is imperfect. I think about this subject a lot. Thanks for the link!

  8. says

    We’ve always praised for the hard work and effort put in! Our oldest, good grades come easier to her. She puts in way less work to get a high grade than does our youngest who has to work way harder to get a decent grade. I don’t think it’s fair to not to praise her because her grade is average yet she put in way more effort to get that grade than did her sister. Everybody’s giftings are different. My oldest is more academic, my youngest more artsy. That is not her fault. Therefore the hard work & effort is what is important to encourage!

  9. says

    Nice article. Most of us who have “gifted” kids have done the research and know this already. The problem is teaching our “gifted” kids that it is okay to mess up – they are naturally hard on themselves. I have always found that it is good to keep more of an eye on the child’s behavior in school more than their academic grades. Usually if they are behaving, they are learning too.

  10. says

    Funny that you should post about this. A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of sitting down with a very wise couple who parented some incredible kids and the father has been a high school teacher and coach for 40 years! He offered similar advice when he said that it’s important to let your kids know that it’s okay to be balanced. For example, deciding how much time and energy is enough to invest in school, say 2 – 3 hours per night. And then doing the best you can in the time given. Education today somtimes seems to want all the kid’s time and the family’s time completely devoted to education. That’s not fair nor is it healthy. Our kids need downtime, play time, friend time, and family time to develop all of their skills and gifts. It’s okay if they get B’s because they are becoming more well-rounded. Interesting idea for me!

  11. says

    Thanks, I thought it was a very interesting article. Currently, I praise my daughter’s efforts at school but I also try to stress that everyone makes mistakes and we should just strive to do the best we can. I don’t want to put too much pressure on her.

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