Often, I find myself saying, “Wow, Maya, you are so smart!” because she astounds me. The things she knows, the things she can do. I quip that I don’t know where she got it – as far as I know, neither Sean nor I were baby geniuses, the way she appears to be.
But what I am seeing is the learning process: the growth of which all humans are capable. It is one of the many joys of parenthood – to bear witness to this “miracle” of the human brain.
But by praising Maya in this way – to tell her that she is “smart”, I am implying that intelligence is a fixed asset – she is either born with it or without it – as fixed as her eye color; when in reality, intelligence is as malleable as any other muscle. I need to watch what I say to her.
When students/kids are learning, if we were to focus all of our praise on the process of learning: on the risk-taking, the trying, the failing, the trying again, then our kids would be come more resilient and begin to see struggle as a necessary part of growing and achieving success.
If we establish the belief that success is reachable, but only through hard work and trial and error, then there’s nothing our kids couldn’t do. Falling down, or not knowing the answer right away, wouldn’t cause them to quit. Making mistakes and learning from them IS how we grow. Trying is how we stretch.
Here is a TED talk that illustrates some research in this idea.