Praising Your Child for Being Smart: A Good Idea?

Giving your children positive feedback is important to keep them motivated and give them confidence. But the kind of praise you give can make a difference.

Telling your kid that she’s smart seems like a no brainer—you want her to know that she’s intelligent. But that might not be the best way to give feedback. Kids who are told they’re smart may start seeing this as in innate trait and not necessarily something they need to work for.

It may also cause them to become more easily frustrated if they can’t immediately solve a problem. They could become excessively concerned with being smart as opposed to having a desire to learn.

As K12’s John Holdren wrote on, “In the face of setbacks, they feel like they have failed. And so they avoid challenges. They become intent on ‘seeking tasks that will prove their intelligence and avoiding ones that might not. The desire to learn takes a backseat.’”

The alternative to praising a child for being smart is to compliment them on their work ethic and effort, such as, “I’m proud of how hard you worked on that difficult math problem—you really stuck in there until you solved it!” As Holdren points out:

“Such praise can motivate kids to get smarter, if by “smarter” we mean not simply high IQ but also a willingness to meet challenges by exploring new strategies. Focusing on a “growth mind-set” can foster an eagerness to dig into a problem rather than feel defeated by initial difficulties.”

This kind of praise can help children want to work hard and meet challenges—even if a task proves difficult. After all, how much work your child puts into something makes all the difference, which is a valuable lesson to learn even for the real world.

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