PARENTS

Telling Your Kid That They're Smart Could Turn Them Into A Cheater

But it's an easily fixable problem.

09/18/2017 12:18 EDT | Updated 09/18/2017 12:19 EDT
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By now, most parents have been told that they're not supposed to tell their kids how smart they are because it zaps their motivation and potentially keeps them from dealing properly with setbacks.

(Let's all pretend for a moment that we actually follow that advice. You with us? Great.)

Earlier on HuffPost:

Now, it turns out, telling your kid that they're smart could have another detrimental effect, beyond the whole "let Mom fill out my job application when I'm 16 years old" thing.

According to research from University of Toronto published in Psychological Science, when kids aged three years old and five years old were told they're smart, or even that they have a "reputation" for being smart, they were more likely to cheat in a guessing game. Kids who were told that that their behaviour was good (i.e. "you did very well this time") cheated far less.

The study specifically asked the kids not to peek at the answers.

According to co-author Li Zhao of Hangzhou Normal University in a press release, the "smart" children "feel pressure to perform well in order to live up to others' expectations, even if they need to cheat to do so."

Calling a kid 'smart' can create what psychologists call a 'fixed' mindset, leading them to believe their intellect is inherent and can't be changed.

As noted above, when kids are told they're smart, it creates what psychologists call a "fixed" mindset, leading them to believe their intellect is inherent and can't be changed. The alternative is a "growth" mindset, which helps convey the idea that intelligence can change through effort and dedication.

According to psychology professor Dr. Carol Dweck, "children with a growth mindset were more likely to persevere through setbacks, work harder, seek effective learning strategies and outperform those with a fixed mindset."

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Image of a little girl finishing homework and get applause from her parents at home

It's really hard not to tell your kid they're doing great at something. But if you want to keep them from being cheaters their whole lives, according to the researchers in this study, it's a matter of phrasing it in a way that keeps them working harder.

"We want to encourage children. We want them to feel good about themselves," says co-author Kang Lee, from the University of Toronto's Ontario Institute for Studies in Education. "But these studies show we must learn to give children the right kinds of praise, such as praising specific behaviour. Only in this way will praise have the intended positive outcomes."

So, "you worked really hard on that" = good. "You're so brilliant, no wonder you figured that out" = bad. The best part is, it might make both you and your kids that much smarter.

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