My super sweet daughter came home from school today and asked me to write a post on praising kids on effort not intelligence. If you are a parent, you know what went through my mind next.
My daughter is a very special girl. She is not only special because she is the single most optimistic, friendly, outgoing person I know. She is special because she had serious neglect as an infant and by the time she came to us we were told she may not live and if she did she would have severe disabilities. With her permission, I have shared her whole story here. She still has to work a little harder than most of her peers but she is really amazing.
So when that daughter comes home and asks me to write a post on praising effort not intelligence, she has my attention. I was concerned that she was feeling insecure or that something bad had happened at school. She told me that her teacher was talking about different ways to praise and she appreciates that we focus on effort. She wants all of my readers to know that it is very important to praise effort not intelligence.
Why it’s important to praise effort, not outcome or intelligence from my 12 year old daughter:
- People can’t control their intelligence, but they can control their effort.
- A really smart person who is lazy still won’t get anything done, but someone who works hard can learn to do almost anything.
- Some people work a lot harder to get a C than other people do to get an A.
- If you learn to always do your best and work hard, you will do better at everything you do.
- Even the best olympic athletes failed a lot before they got really good. If kids are afraid to fail, they might not find out they have a really cool talent.
This goes in my list of lessons I learned from painful mistakes. With 8 kids with different abilities and natural gifts, I unknowingly caused a lot of hard feelings when we first adopted our girls. I was used to expecting straight A’s from my sons and that was a simple way to measure success. Learning new things is easy for them so if they didn’t have high grades that was an indicator that they weren’t really making an effort. We talked a lot about grades. When my daughters came, they came from a very difficult, abusive and unstable background, so school was more of a challenge for them and they had a lot of other things to focus on. They heard us talking to the boys and thought we expected straight A’s from them too.
I realized that my children listen very closely to the praise I give the other children and they compare themselves. Nothing good comes from that. It led to resentment, insecurity, and hard feelings. It took me a while to catch on to what I was doing. It didn’t occur to me that my kids would think they were not good enough. Didn’t I always tell them how much I loved them? There is no better or worse in our family. My children are unique with unique talents.
I started making a conscious effort to praise effort rather than results. When we talk about achievements, we always focus on the work that got them there or the courage to try a new thing. Whether it’s skiing, gymnastics, playing an instrument, or doing well in school, I am so proud of my kids’ hard work and effort that is getting great results.