Stop Telling Kids They're "Smart"

Modern society never ceases to emphasize the importance of hard work. “If you work hard, you will succeed.” This is the mantra everyone seems to be singing. Yet, when we tell a child “You are smart,” what are we really saying? That despite their actions, they are and always will possess the inherent trait of “smartness.” In doing this, we contradict our mantra without even realizing it. What we are doing is suggesting intelligence, or “smartness,” is somehow static and unchanging and that it looks one way. In actuality, things like intelligence and the human brain are elastic– like a rubber band, able to stretch and expand, develop and grow, through our hard work. Yet, we find ourselves regularly reaffirming this rigid framework: “You are great at math!” “You are a good kid.” “You’re awesome!”


Yes, kids are awesome. Especially our own. But, why? What exactly makes kids awesome? Some might say it’s their sense of wonder and imagination, lack of malice, or their ability to laugh at just about anything. By focusing on these inputs, we help kids understand just what about them makes them awesome, what they can do to continue to be awesome, and what they can do to become even more awesome. We empower them with the ability to develop and grow. This is known as a growth mindset. The alternative is a fixed mindset. “I am awesome.” No room for change. No room for growth. 


Praise should always be specific and concrete. Rather than telling a child simply “You’re awesome,” try instead “Your ability to imagine and create will take you far in life.” Rather than “You are a good kid,” try “You are so kind to help others, like helping mom do the dishes.” And, “You excel in math because you work hard at it, completing all your homework and studying for quizzes,” rather than “You are great at math!” Give them the why and watch them grow.