Does your child give up easily? It could be because of a common parenting mistake.
Ethan's parents constantly told him how brainy he was. The wiry son of a highly educated professor in Seattle, Ethan was indeed smart. Every time he sailed through a test, his parents would say, "You're so smart! You can do anything, Ethan. We are so proud of you." Sounds nice. Sounds encouraging, right?
Wrong. Little Ethan quickly learned that any academic achievement that required no effort was the behavior that defined his gift. His parents, with the best of intentions, consistently tethered Ethan's accomplishments to some vague, innate characteristic. Researchers call this "appealing to fixed mindsets."
When Ethan hit junior high school, he ran into subjects that did require effort. He could no longer sail through; for the first time, he started making mistakes. Ethan had no idea what to do when he failed, except to conclude that he must not be smart anymore. He got discouraged, then depressed. Quite simply, Ethan quit trying, and his grades collapsed. Research shows that Ethan's unfortunate story is typical of kids regularly praised for some fixed characteristic.
Research shows a simple solution. Certainly, scientists don't know everything about the brain. But what we do know gives parents their best chance at raising smart, happy children. What should Ethan's parents have done?
Rather than praising him for being smart, they should have praised him for working hard. On the successful completion of a test, they should not have said, "I'm so proud of you. You're so smart." They should have said, "I'm so proud of you. You must have really studied hard." Big difference. This appeals to your child's controllable effort rather than to mysterious, unchangeable talent. It's called "growth mindset" praise.
More than 30 years of study show that children raised in growth-mindset homes consistently outscore their fixed-mindset peers in academic achievement. There's more detail about why in my new book, "Brain Rules for Baby: How to Raise a Smart and Happy Child from Zero to Five."
Children with a growth mindset tend to:
- Have a refreshing attitude toward failure. They do not ruminate over their mistakes.
- Perceive errors simply as problems to be solved. "I love a challenge" is one delightfully common statement.
- Spend more time on problems -- and solve those problems more often, too. Kids regularly praised for effort solve 50 to 60 percent more hard math problems than kids praised for intelligence.
Because they believe mistakes occur from of lack of effort, not from a lack of ability, the kids know exactly how to remedy mistakes: simply apply more effort.
You can watch this in action in the following video, from brainrules.net:
Follow John Medina, Ph.D. on Twitter: www.twitter.com/babybrainrules