[Parenting Advice] Why telling your kids they’re smart and beautiful could be setting them up for failure

Why telling your kids they’re smart and beautiful could be setting them up for failure

“You’re SOOO Smart!”
“Well aren’t you just BEAUTIFUL?!”
Words we say without thought and, all with good intentions, right?
You want to LIFT up your children, give them confidence, self assurance, raise their self esteem, am I right?
[hand raise] I’m guilty of it too! But recently stopped so they can be MORE successful.

If you fail to plan, you plan to fail

What the &%@! are you talking about?!!

Before you have a heart attack, take a deep breath, count to ten, and slooooowly exhale, then read on … give me a chance here!

If you know me even a little, you know I am a voracious reader of personal development books. This past year has been centered on helping me to create better habits and becoming more focused … like most moms, I have a bit of A.D.D. (no, I’m not professionally diagnosed and please save the comments, let’s Focus on our topic and move forward, you can rant about my self diagnosis another time.)

In working on my MIND and Mindset, I was fortunate enough to pick up a book called Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol Dweck (I enjoyed the book so much, I’ve re-read several parts, many times over now!), I learned how words can trigger a certain mindset and put us in a state of thinking that may actually be to our detriment.

A study with both adults and with children showed interesting and unexpected results.

In summary of the studies, it was found, from both controlled studies and from research from those interviewed about their regular outside of the study lives, that there was a notable difference in the tenacity and, thus, long term success forecast of those who were told they were Smart vs those encouraged to do their best or applauded for doing well because they did their best.

Those who had been told they were smart, felt that either they knew something or they didn’t and if they didn’t , then they must not be smart enough to accomplish a certain task or area of learning. They believed that their knowledge was at its limit.

Whereas, those who were encouraged or applauded for doing well or even being smart for doing their best, continued to work through problems, learning from mistakes, and, even saw new tasks as challenges to be tackled where the “smart” individuals didn’t want to tackle anything new because it was unfamiliar to them and hence, if they couldn’t perform well, would show they weren’t really smart after all.

Interesting, don’t you think?

great-work-and-well-doneThis was similarly found from those who were told they were beautiful or pretty or handsome – physically speaking vs those who weren’t. Those who were told they are physically good looking to a heightened point of looks, focused on that as how they viewed both themselves and others while those who were referenced for their personality as a whole focus on that for themselves as well as others. Personality can be improved upon and needs to be interacted with to truly understand, leading to greater friendships based on personality. While, those focused on outward looks tend to determine whether or not one should be friends with someone based on physical traits before getting to know someone based on personality. Beautiful focused kids tend to live a more shallow and material existence.

Here is a Great example of how speaking to my own children changed how they were.

I’d always told them how smart they were, because, well, they are! 😉 They’re in gifted programs, get straight A’s, etc. I could tell though, that they knew this and … yup … I could see in my son he was starting to coast. Things come easy to him and he wasn’t going much above or beyond. However, as I’ve changed my language, as I’ve changed how I interact with him, I’ve noticed a change in him. He works a little harder to focus, pays greater attention, adds more details to his work. We talk more about him listening better, thinking a bit more, and being more thoughtful in some of this work while learning strategies, since he’s capable, to reduce some time spent on some things.

With my daughter, less, You look beautiful and more, that was so kind of you or that was so thoughtful has made a greater change in how she interacts with her brothers! She’s always been one to be thoughtful of a person’s personality in making friends and being kind to everyone but, hey, let’s bring that goodness home, right?

So HOW SHOULD I Raise My Child?

By giving them balance, as with anything in life, it’s all about balance. A little bit of praise for being smart, a lot of praise for working hard. Compliments for looking beautiful or handsome at appropriate times and lots of compliments for being a good person, being fun, being thoughtful, considerate, kind, generous, funny….! A little candy, a lot of broccoli, see? A balance of this and that, good and “bad”.

Give your child the gift of self esteem. Encourage independence through praising from thoughtful work and actions as well as being a thoughtful person. Support creativity. Applaud being different. Recognize efforts, no matter how small. And above all, always listen to your children, even when, no, especially, when they’re not speaking. This is when you’ll learn the most about them. Their subtle clues are not so subtle when you take the time to really pay attention and, this is the most important part, take action.

What Do You Mean “Take Action”?

When I say, as I did above, take action, I mean, as a parent you have a duty to change your own behavior and the sooner the better. All children are not the same and they shouldn’t be treated as such.

I very recently had to change MY Own behavior … and my husband was on board as well. We tend to give in to our kids, a lot. We do so for the sake of opening them up to having experiences, to having opportunities they might otherwise miss. But, not everyone learns their lessons as quickly as we’d all like. One of my kids is just that way and we’ve made a hard decision to pull back on a birthday party celebration because of the lack of appreciation and lack of follow through on keeping a word/promise made. We’ve explained that keeping one’s word is how trust is built. And, while giving opportunities allows one to show lessons from the past have been learned, sometimes, one has to prove lessons have been learned by doing more without being asked and giving vs taking.

It’s really hard as a parent to teach in this way but sacrifices are better done early when the falls are not so hard.

As a parent, we learn as we go. Good parents continue learning and wanting to be better for our kids then pass that knowledge on to them.  I’m a life learner and I hope you are too.

Did you find this article powerful? Share with me your thoughts or stories. Do you agree with the how to have more successful kids or no and Why?  Thanks for visiting.




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  1. Mary Mary
    November 12, 2014    

    Valuable in for parents, Jenny. Thanks for sharing this.

    • November 13, 2014    

      Thanks Mary for visiting & taking time to read as well as comment 🙂

  2. Jenjer Jenjer
    November 13, 2014    

    Awesome info on child rearing. thanks for sharing.

  3. November 13, 2014    

    Excellent article Jenny. Thanks for sharing this information!

  4. Poh Poh
    November 13, 2014    

    A truly wonderful post Jenny. I agree that balance is important and children need to be challenged. It is so easy to get complacent when you are told how beautiful and how smart you are. Praise is wonderful but taking it to the extreme, as you’ve said can have detrimental effects. Thanks for sharing your learning with us 😉

  5. November 13, 2014    

    I posted this in the wahm group on FB but thought I would also post it to your blog:
    I’m a prime example of this theory. I was told ‘You’re so smart” growing up. I’m paralyzed by it. If I think I might be less than perfect I won’t try. It’s been difficult but working on it daily helps.
    SAra recently posted..What is a Good Blog Bounce Rate?My Profile

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