Don’t tell your children that they’re clever

What!?  It’s counter intuitive, but if you want your children to continue to learn and grow, more than three decades of Prof. Carol Dweck’s research suggests that telling them that they are clever is not a good long-term strategy.  In fact, in the long run, the ‘you’re clever’ strategy could actually hold them back.

I first came across this idea in 2007 (I think it was via this article in Scientific American).  It’s one of the outcomes from an area of research related to learning mindsets, covering a spectrum between two polls – a fixed mindset and a growth mindset.

Do you think it’s possible to get smarter than you are already?

Your answer to this question may provide some insight into your own learning mindset.  In super summary, those of us with a fixed mindset tend to believe that ‘we are the way we are’ – using school subjects, perhaps “I’m just not good at maths, what’s the point” or “I’m just gifted when it comes to languages, I’ll stick with that.”

Whereas those of us with a growth mindset tend to believe ‘we get smarter through effort and support’ – perhaps “I’m just not good at maths, yet” or “I do find it easier to learn languages than some, and I’m working really hard at maths so I can be good at that too.”

In a recent article in Education Week, Prof. Dweck points out that it isn’t just through effort that we become smarter.  Although that’s a key ingredient, putting a great deal of effort into the wrong problem solving strategy may be a waste, especially if there was someone who could have helped you find a better one.

There is certainly much more depth to learning mindsets than is portrayed here, or in the linked articles and Prof. Dweck’s book Mindset: How You Can Fulfil Your Potential offers a more comprehensive view.  And I include mindsets (learning and other kinds) in the work I’ve done with schools, and in the workplace (yes, adults have learning mindsets too).

So, how should we support our children?  Well, Prof. Dweck’s article in Education Weeks ends with this: