I was recently babysitting my 9-year old nephew while his parents went out on date night. We mostly sat around his house playing cards and talking, but then he got to going about his good grades, and I was suddenly not very interested in talking with him anymore.
“Because I am smart.”
He bragged about the good grades he received during the school year, going on and on about why he was superior to his classmates. He had never been an especially arrogant boy, but something in him recently triggered this new-found confidence play.
I read Kristine Croto’s forward strategy on using the inverse power of praise on children, and it seems to be something of a revelation for what many of us already know – intelligence must be reinforced through discipline and work.
The classical concept has intelligence as a relatively stable characteristic of the individual – once clever then always clever. On the converse if you are not so bright, then there’s not too much you can do about it. But these are outdated theories because contemporary research suggests a different concept of intelligence. Dr. Carol Dweck is of the opinion that intelligence can be improved and is not a static concept. Dweck introduced the essential idea of mindsets – that people with a fixed mindset will fail; likewise, children and parents with an progressive philosophy of intelligence are going to improving their minds, thus increasing their IQ and talents.
But our children do not innately know the philosophy of intelligence extends into discipline (or maybe they’re too lazy to face up to this fact). Believing in talent and ability is not necessarily a bad thing, but children who have a fixed mindset do not think that learning new things can change or enhance their abilities.
Children with a fixed mindset:
- Students are afraid of failure and not looking smart enough – Failure for them is not an opportunity to learn – it is their worst enemy. They do not want to be regarded as anything but ‘clever’ or ‘intelligent’ or ‘talented.’ My nephew also fell into this trap because he thinks being smart is enough to achieve everything he needs.
- Children do everything to preserve their ‘clever’ image – The children will do anything to demonstrate success in intelligence, including cheating on a test to get a better grade. Students who have a fixed mindset are also vulnerable to criticism, and they cannot bear the questioning of their ability.
- Children make themselves blameless – Their environment keeps sending them messages that reinforce their fixation. “You are so intelligent,” or “You are very good at maths” are messages that reinforce the fixed mindset and offer no opportunity to develop or to get better.
Children with a progressive and dynamic philosophy of intelligence:
- Children believe in actively growing their intelligence – Children with a growth mindset do not worry too much about how smart they are or look in the moment, because they are fully aware they can become smarter and develop their abilities. The key to such improvements is hard work.
- Children with a growth mindset are brave enough to fail and do not pursue success at all costs – They are aware that the road to success is long and not necessarily easy. These children are willing to learn and, more importantly, willing to make considerable effort to get better at whatever they do or want to learn.
- Obstacles, failures and mistakes are necessary obstacles to ultimate success -A setback inspires them to double their efforts and keep going until they succeed. Children, who have a growth mindset are motivated, able to face adversity and show remarkable resilience, and ultimately achieve better results.
Teachers and parents can send different messages that acknowledge the effort and hard work of the child, thus reinforcing a progressive view on a child’s philosophy of intelligence. These messages imply that children can get better and develop their abilities when they try hard. When students receive such messages about their performance and abilities, they learn to profit from constructive criticism and do not ignore negative feedback.
It is important to see the point here – not all praise is good for a child. When adults praise children for their effort, they reinforce their motivation.
We had a long discussion with my nephew about the importance of effort underlying his philosophy of intelligence. He understood that being clever is just one thing, and without making an effort intelligence is not enough. The most successful people do not only have naturally perfect abilities; instead, they are hard-working and determined people who want to succeed. We used the life histories of some individuals he likes and values, such as Albert Einstein and Cristiano Ronaldo, to find some inspiration.
Seems like the smartest kids are the ones who need to be reminded of the importance for having a progressive view on their philosophy of intelligence. Perhaps that’s because the smartest adults are the ones who often make it look effortless.