My child is smart. And how by saying so are making them otherwise

A review of “The Inverse Power of Praise”, P.Bronson and A.Merryman, from the book NurtureShock
by Karen Ruth C. Lorenzana

My child is smart.

Say it often enough, more so in front of him – many believe this would greatly help any child’s self-esteem and academic performance improve. Agree?

Research and current studies show otherwise.

I am a Teacher and I have worked with students with ages varying from preschool age to grade school, high school, college, and though these children’s parents may have varying expectations of their kids, I have seen that it is very popular for their parents to be generous with praise. Why not? We’re proud of these kids, we would love to brag about them, sometimes exaggerating once in a while to boost their confidence. What’s wrong with that? Apparently, a lot.

That’s why it is still hard to swallow for parents, and I admit as an educator myself, to reconstruct our way of addressing children today away from praise.

But seeing how meaningless praise greatly affects a child’s motivation negatively, and how directed praise increases a child’s chances of academic achievement, this piece of information should definitely be a cause of change in our paradigms in terms of education, and even in child rearing. This information is monumental for any parent and educator alike to address.


“When we praise children for their intelligence, we tell them that this is the name of the game:

 look smart, don’t risk making mistakes…

 those who think that innate intelligence is the key to success begin to discount the importance of effort.” (p15, NurtureShock,P.Bronson, A.Merryman)


When we keep our kids believing they are innately smart, and keep praising them for it, chances are they balk at any chance of risking damaging that kind of intelligence we let them believe they have. They cave with difficult exams, scared to make mistakes, ultimately reversing the goal of education: to learn, by trying and making mistakes.


So instead of praising them for their intelligence which is innate, we should praise them for the effort: “Emphasizing effort gives a child a variable that they can control; they come to see themselves as in control of their success. Emphasizing natural intelligence takes it to of the child’s control, and it provides no good recipe for responding to a failure.”

No matter how we remind them of their intelligence, if we do not support this by letting them believe that the brain is indeed a muscle, and that they are actually in control of their performance, academic or in life, we rob them of their future. We rob them of the thought that they will have control of any outcome in their lives. That all they have to do is rely on their intelligence, and when they fail, they will come to believe it is irreversible.

This is, unfortunately, a case among many parents and students we’ve encountered. Know the praise “mental block”? Students get too choked by parents’ and peers’ expectations they fail to perform during actual exams. And as parents, also as teachers, we aren’t helping by praising them for their intelligence.

According to P.Bronson and A.Merryman, a study by Dr. Roy Baumeister showed that “…for college students on the verge of failing in class, esteem-building praise causes their grades to sink further.”

Again, as educators, we are well meaning by handing out praise.

But let us not give it out thoughtlessly:

we should be specific,

and we should highlight effort rather that innate intelligence.

Also, “sincerity of praise is crucial”- we assume kids won’t see through our words. They do.


We, as educators, and for parents as well, are not here simply to make the kids FEEL better. We ultimately want them to DO better.

“Not telling my son he was smart meant I was leaving it up to him to make his own conclusion about his intelligence. Jumping in with praise is like jumping in too soon with the answer to a homework problem- it robs him of the chance to make the deduction himself.” (p26, NurtureShock, P.Bronson, A.Merryman)

Let your kids enjoy being in school, learning, trying, making mistakes and knowing how to deal with let-downs. Any human being craves for understanding, for higher learning, for self-actualization. By letting them make mistakes and learning from it can they only truly achieve those.

In time, when they are out on their own, they will need to keep on going, without extrinsic reward.

And it is when we let them go further testing their academic prowess and upon achieving success (even with failures), do all their past education have meaning in giving them the ultimate intrinsic reward: the satisfaction of doing and learning on their own, knowing they have done it for themselves, and by themselves, because they CAN.

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