“Don’t praise your child’s intelligence.”

In Carol Dweck’s wonderful little book, Mindset, she makes these kinds of startling and interesting points: Praising your child’s intelligence or talent is not healthy.

Who would have thought, right?

If your child gets an “A” on a test, and you tell her how great that is, you’re praising her intelligence, complimenting her on how smart she is.

And you’re setting up a situation in which the child associates praise and acceptance with getting a high grade.

Instead of praising her intelligence,  Dweck urges the parent to praise her effort, not the grade.

Conversely, what if your child  receives a low grade? Obviously as a parent, you don’t love him less, or see the grade as a failure…his failure.

But, might the child see it that way?

Over time, Dweck says, the child praised for his talent or intelligence won’t stretch, take the chances necessary for growth and development, because who would want to risk failing?

Who would want to risk losing the “A,” forfeiting all that praise; no longer to be considered “smart” or “talented”?

Dweck asks us to acknowledge and praise the effort; The willingness to take on the tough challenges. 

For the fun of it, test your responses to these two situations:

A mom is exploring kindergartens with her 5 year-old son, Harold. They’re in the class and Harold looks up at the paintings on the wall and says, ‘Who pained those ugly pictures?”

As a parent, what would you say? What’s likely your tone of voice?

Later, Harold picks up a toy fire engine. He looks at it and asks rather indignantly, “Who broke this toy?”

Again, what would your reaction be?

In the case of the paintings, this mom said, “Harold, that’s not polite. Those are not ugly paintings and besides, kids like you made them.”

About the toy, could you hear yourself saying,  “Harold, we don’t know anybody here, so what difference does it make who broke the toy?”

Sound familiar?

The kindergarten teacher, on the other hand, told Harold that, yes, some of the pictures were ugly and that was OK. Ugly pictures were welcomed in her class.

She also told Harold that toys are meant to be played with and they sometimes break. That’s what happens and it’s OK.

In both cases, Harold received a Growth-Minded response.

He heard that it was OK if he wasn’t a good painter or good at art. No one was going to judge his work, and he didn’t have to fear failure.

In the second case, Harold heard that if HE broke a toy, he wouldn’t be in trouble.
Toys break.
No blame here!

So, Harold could enjoy the toys, freed from the fear and censure of breaking one and the restrictions placed on his creativity.


Finally, Dweck points out an interesting experiment.

In one class, students were given exceptional tutoring: guidance on classwork, time management, etc. Strategies designed to help the students do well and earn good grades.

Another class was devoted only to retraining the thought process.
Students were encouraged to think differently about success and failure.
The group worked on values including how to approach challenging work, manage expectations, find appropriate attitudes and honest self-talk.

Not surprisingly, the second group was more productive, worked more collaboratively, took on more challenges. Importantly, they actually looked forward to the work, not the grade.

Deck firmly believes talent and intelligence are not fixed traits. They can be improved and developed. 

When we compare ourselves to someone we perceive as being gifted or talented, and don’t think we can develop the same traits and skills, that’s what she calls the Fixed Mindset.

Believing that everyone is capable of growing, improving and increasing his intelligence is, as she says in her book, the Growth Mindset.

The powerful takeaway is that we do have a choice.