The secret to raising smart kids?

Scientific American had this very interesting piece on children’s development and how to best, as a parent, foster their long term growth.

The full article is there: http://www.sciam.com/article.cfm?id=the-secret-to-raising-smart-kids&sc=WR_20071211

The basic premise from this article is that if you reward children for being smart versus from trying to learn and grow, you’re not going to -or at least not as well as if you were doing it- maximize their long term growth and intelligence potential.

What the article highlights is that if you congratulate your kid because (s)he had a good grade in math while (s)he is good at math, the day (s)he will fail it will be the perception of a failure of his or her intelligence vs. just another obstacle to conquer.

I like this view because it really matches well with things I’ve seen growing up in France and now leaving in the US:

  • Praise: French culture does not promote praise, much more criticism. The article states that praise is important
  • When to give it: In the US praise if often given (too often to mean anything? Yet another debate), but indeed the praise is most often given for the result not the effort although…
  • In little league baseball I see kids being praised even if they fail however…
  • They also get praised when it’s not obvious they tried their best. e.g. a kid being scared will be told "It’s OK, you’ll do better next time" (i.e. praise although neither result nor effort was achieved)
  • There are countless examples of people of decent intelligence but who never give up and keep on trying and learning that achieve great successes. There are also examples of smart people that end-up with mediocre lives or even mental collapse at their first failure. (obviously when you get both the brain and growth ethics you reach amazing heights: Bill Clinton, Bill Gates…)

This is also corroborated in the studies on time spent on tough math exams by westerners children vs. Asian children that Malcomm Gladwell refers to in his book “Outliers”. Westerners often gave up quickly (i.e. “it’s too hard for me, I’m not good enough for this”) while Asia (Singaporeans in the book I think I remember) keep on trying (and often succeeding) much longer (i.e. “I can do it if I work enough at it”).

Another great book that came out after this article, Nurture Shock also points to the same need to focus praise on efforts and results vs. intelligence and results.

To the parents reading this: what’s your take on this? I had a comment this was a very American culture centric view and I tend to disagree. I think the whole reasoning (promote effort and resilience over sheer brain power) works across cultures.

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