WhyTelling Kids ‘You Tried So Hard’ Is Better Than Telling Them ‘You’re So Clever’

Washington, D.C., circa 1940. “Ernest Kendall, teacher of U.S. Capitol pages.” Note old-school schoolboy mischief.

Photo by Theodor Horydczak.

You know how every once in a while a piece of parenting advice filters its way through all the white noise and settles into an important space in your brain? Then you find yourself thinking about it? And then applying it to your life?

I felt this way about the article I read recently on Maria Popova’s always-wonderful Brain Pickings. It reviewed the book The Examined Life: How We Lose and Find Ourselves by psychoanalyst and University College London professor Stephen Grosz.

In one part, the book examines the idea that praise is demotivating and damaging to children.

Nowadays, we lavish praise on our children. Praise, self-confidence and academic performance, it is commonly believed, rise and fall together. But current research suggests otherwise — over the past decade, a number of studies on self-esteem have come to the conclusion that praising a child as ‘clever’ may not help her at school. In fact, it might cause her to under-perform. Often a child will react to praise by quitting — why make a new drawing if you have buy alprazolam paypal already made ‘the best’? Or a child may simply repeat the same work — why draw something new, or in a new way, if the old way always gets applause?

The idea that telling kids ‘you are so clever’ gives them nowhere to go (and can actually result in a loss of confidence) makes such intuitive sense to me. We have developed, says Popova,  ’a toxic cultural mythology that creative and intellectual excellence comes from a passive gift bestowed upon the fortunate few by the gods of genius, rather than being the product of the active application and consistent cultivation of skill.’

This clarifies for me the importance of nurturing  focus, practice, stick-to-it-ness and a good work ethic.

I find myself editing that urge to say ‘you’re so clever’ lately. I’m replacing it with ‘you worked really hard on that’ , and it feels like a much more meaningful form of support. To be clear, that’s when I’m not using the equally effective parenting terms ‘Where are you, a hotel?’, ‘What is this, Bush Week?, and ‘Who do I look like , Cinderella?’