In my previous post, I talked about the two different mindsets (fixed mindset and growth mindset) identified by a Stanford Professor Carol Dweck. Here I want to go deeper and see how exactly children acquire fixed mindset and how they think when they hear parents say: “You are so smart!”
When you call someone smart, you put them on a pedestal. Everyone, especially kids want to look good and stay on the pedestal, whatever it takes.
After they receive the compliment ” you are so smart”, their need to continue deserving the label “Smart” and staying on the pedestal. Children quickly realize they can stay on the pedestal if they limit the number of times their intelligence is tested. They solve fewer math problems and equations and engage in fewer activities. That way they minimize the risk of making a mistake. They only do the things they know they are good at.
When we tell our kids: “ Oh, you did it so quickly, I am so impressed!”
They hear: “If I didn’t do it quickly, mom wouldn’t be impressed!”
When we tell our kids: “You get it so easily, you don’t have to try hard!”
They hear: “If I work hard, you wouldn’t think I am smart.”
Sometimes, they don’t want to show they are working too hard on a math problem because that would mean they are not smart enough.
Very subtly parents and teachers are conveying ideas that smart people don’t make mistakes; smart people don’t work hard. Also, we unintentionally channel the message that the most important thing in life is to be smart and look smart at all times. As a result, people begin narrowing their world so they can succeed in one narrow topic or field.
In one study, they told us that kids with fixed mindset would probably cheat instead of studying. In another study, after a failure, they looked for someone who did worse than them so they could feel good about themselves. And in study after study, they have run from difficulty.
This is the reason some kids shy away from a challenge while some kids who have the same cognitive abilities thrive on it.
Kids with growth mindset are not afraid to make mistakes.
“Why waste time looking smart, while I can be working towards getting smarter?” And they do that by taking on new tasks and learning from mistakes.
Next time you want to call your child smart, rephrase you comment and say: ” you really applied yourself this time! I am so proud!”
Here, you put an emphasis on the process and effort instead of innate abilities. It is a better and more encouraging message.