Why I’ll Never Tell a Child that He is Smart

Ouch!  Even writing that title sounds harsh.  But it’s true.  The words “You’re so smart” or any iteration of it, will never cross these lips. It doesn’t mean that I might not think it about a child that I am working with.  Far from it!  My clients blow me away with how their minds work on a daily basis.   However, how I praise them will never include the word “smart.”  Now before you start thinking that I am cold-hearted and need to find a new profession that doesn’t include working with small, impressionable children, hear me out.   

I am a HUGE believer in building a child’s confidence.  Confidence and competence are pretty much equally important when it comes to achievement. Research has shown that when you are confident, you take more risks and are better able to recover from setbacks. Confidence also enhances your ability to think creatively and push yourself harder.  Creativity, drive, stamina.  All things I want instilled in my clients.  So how does this all relate to not using the word “smart?”  It all comes down to what psychologists refer to as “growth mind-sets.”  

A growth mind-set is the belief that one can be good at something, regardless of initial skill level. People who have a growth mind-set are typically more confident that those who think skills are innate.  As a result, they move past failures and take more encouragement from success.  Thus, I won’t praise a child by pointing out an “innate” quality they possess (aka being “smart”) but rather I praise them on a quality that they can “grow” (ex. “I love how you kept trying to sound out that word even when it got tough.  You stuck with it! That’s awesome!”)  I praise them on whatever skill helped them achieve the answer.  The idea is that my clients walk away from a speech session thinking about themselves in terms of being someone who perseveres when things are tough, who can look at a problem from another view point, who uses previous knowledge to look at a new problem. I don’t want them to internalize the belief that they are someone who only got a problem right because they were smart or got it wrong because they were dumb. I want my students to see their successes as something they achieved by qualities they worked on and their failures as something to learn from.  I want them be able to apply the successes and failures of that event to the future. 

And that sounds pretty smart to me! ;)