Why Telling Your Kids They’re ‘Smart’ or ‘Clever’ Might Not Be The Best Approach



One of my favourite lines from Peppa Pig is when one of the kids at school does something smart and the teacher says “Isn’t Harry being a Clever Clogs”.  Not sure how they do it but the way it’s said is both affirming and slightly sarcastic at the same time.

Where is it in our culture that the phrase “that’s clever” comes from.  It seems to roll off the tongue so easily every time one of our kids does something well, or out of the ordinary.  It’s similar to our tendency to comment on our daughters looks when they walk into the room, especially if they’re dressed for school or going out, “that’s really pretty”, or “you look lovely today”.

Being smart, intelligent or clever is held in high value in our culture today.  We tend to associate these words with a person’s value and success in life.  “They must be very smart”, “that person must have be really smart to do so well”.   Sure intelligence might have something to do with it, but as the old saying goes “success is 10% inspiration, 90% perspiration”.

It’s time to retire the “S” word and “C” word from parenting altogether!!

Telling a child they are smart or clever can have a couple of implications for them:

  • If they think they’re smart, then they think they should be able to do most tasks easily without any effort. When they try something they can’t do, they tend to just give up, maybe even say, “oh i’m just not very good at this particular thing”.
  • They don’t deal well with being told they’re wrong.
  • “Smart” kids stand to become especially averse to making mistakes, which are critical to learning and succeeding.
  • Mistakes grow your brain.
  • People who are labelled as smart at an early age are less likely to challenge themselves.
  • When you praise kids for their ability, it makes them focus on looking good—not on learning.
  • When you praise kids for their intelligence, they learn to view their failures as evidence of stupidity.

True Story:  A student in one of my classes was very advanced for their age in most subject areas.  A voracious reader, brilliant writer, and high scoring in all their maths tests.  When it came to the subjects of Technology and Art though, it’s like they almost couldn’t be bothered trying.  They thought they weren’t very good at those things and so didn’t try to work hard at improving.  Also lots of kids were naturally gifted at drawing comic characters and graffiti lettering, but when it came to other types of art that they could have done, didn’t want to try it because it required effort.

What to tell them instead:

  • “You did a great job” – focus on the work they’ve done to get there rather on just they’re ability.
  • “You’ve done something fantastic” – focus on what they’ve produced.
  • “Well done, I can see you’ve put a lot of work into that” – focus on the work required to get the result.
  • “You’re a really good problem solver”
  • “You’re finding really good ways to do this”
  • “I can see you’ve been practicing”
  • “You’re hard work has really paid off”.

So by all means encourage and praise your children, but be wise about the words you use.  Make sure your kids grow up to value effort and trying hard, over just being smart enough.  Being smart will only get them so far.



About Author

Leave A Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.