Effort Leads to Higher Intelligence: How to Get Your Kids to Try Hard

Why do some “smart” kids give up so easily?

You might have this issue with your kids – they score well on standardized tests, but those good scores are not showing up in the grades. They just don’t seem to want to try with their schoolwork.

It’s not that your kids are getting failing grades. They are just not living up to their full potential. In fact, sometimes they almost seem afraid of putting forth effort.

Your kids are “talented” and “bright”, but there is an ongoing disconnect between the good test scores and how well they do in school.

This is exasperating for the parents, and frustrating for the kids.

Does this feel and sound familiar to you? If so, read on.

There is a “self esteem and effort” solution that will get your kids motivated. And what works is very easy to do – and it’s going to be far more enjoyable for you and your kids – than almost anything you might be currently doing.

Be Warned: This technique takes some effort on your part to see results. But the results will be incredible, and totally worth it. Slightly changing how you praise your kids will have incredible long-term impact on how they approach difficult or confusing situations.

What We Are Doing Wrong

The bad news is: You’ve been praising your kids the wrong way for years, but didn’t know it.

You have been praising your kids by letting them know they are “smart”, or “talented”, or they succeeded at something, and you tell them you are proud of them for this. This is the natural reaction of a loving parent. I’ve done it hundreds of times myself, but I know better now.

You’ve praised them in order to support them and help them know they can really go and do things out in the world. You want this praise to motivate and inspire them.

You’ve told them they are smart and talented, but it turns out this kind of praise is bad for kids in the long run. In fact, it is flat out terrible for them.

What our kids actually hear when we praise them for being “smart” or “talented” is far different from what we intend for them to hear. The effects of this well intentioned praise are surprisingly damaging to motivation.

What do our Kids Hear? Why This Kind Of Praise Is Bad…

Praise for being smart or talented fosters a fixed mindset for talent and ability. This fixed mindset is where their ability is a fixed quantity which cannot be impacted by effort. “Smart” implies that something is either “smart” or “dumb,”  they are either “smart” or “dumb” without that gray area in-between.

Telling a kid they are smart or talented promotes the fixed mindset, whereby their intelligence and talent and abilities are fixed and cannot be changed through effort or learning. 

Kids think, “Mom told me I am smart because I got an A on my test. BUT, when I do not know the answer, does this mean I am dumb? Maybe. I don’t want to be dumb.” This is what kids will naturally think. Nobody wants to be dumb.

The bad part is that the praise for being smart or being talented did not involve any actions the kids can control. They are “born that way.” “Smart” is an adverb, so it’s a description of  something innate and unchanging.

And if they don’t know how to do something, or don’t know the answer, well, that must mean they are dumb – and they can’t change into smart because that is already fixed. Do you begin to see?

This then promotes the thinking that: “If my smarts are not going to change, then it doesn’t matter if I try. After all, I’m already smart so only dumb kids need to really try.” All of a sudden, the praise which is supposed to be helping their self esteem is really pushing them to lower self-esteem, where they think effort and trying hard is a sign of being dumb.

Kids end up becoming demotivated, and almost fearful of learning – because they do not want to risk being wrong and therefore stupid. Praising your kids for being smart sets up a terrible spiral of fear, less motivation, and lower confidence.

Really, the impact is so bad I am starting to think telling a kid they are smart or talented is nearly a form of unintentional child abuse. It is completely destructive to getting kids to be motivated.

That’s the bad news. The good news is this problem is very easy to fix and you can start right away.

The Solution: How To Get Your Kids To Try Hard

The solution is simple: Praise your kids for effort and strategy instead of praising their smarts or talent.

It really works. The science on this form of praise is overwhelming:

I highly recommend you read the linked articles. They will change your mind – and the words coming out of your mouth.

Really, the research is remarkably positive for a growth mindset  – and there are so many studies backing up the value of a growth mindset.

The shift in behavior for your kids will be larger than you expect, too.

The researcher who is most associated with praising for effort instead of intelligence, Dr. Carol Dweck, coined the phrase “growth mindset.”  A growth mindset is the view that intelligence is mallable – that anyone but especially kids can change their smarts by working hard on challenging problems. This is a paragraph from her recent paper on integrating the growth mindset into video games:

“A growing body of research in psychology suggests that feedback such as praise can have varying, and sometimes negative, effects. Praising a student’s inherent ability has been shown to promote the fixed mindset, or the belief that intelligence is unchangeable, while praising a student’s strategies or effort promotes the growth mindset, or the belief that intelligence is malleable. Studies have shown that children with a fixed mindset view mistakes, challenge, and effort as negative indicators of their intelligence, while children with growth mindset view effort as positive and challenges as opportunities to learn. More importantly, holding a fixed mindset predicts static or decreasing academic performance over time, while holding a growth mindset predicts academic improvement. “

Wow – that’s a real eye opener. In plain English, Dr. Dweck is saying praising kids for being smart results in them viewing mistakes and effort as negative indicators of their own intelligence. Effort is viewed as a negative by people with a fixed mindset. Praising kids for effort and strategy results in kids believing the exact same mistakes and exact same challenges are opportunities to learn through effort.

This is a huge shift in attitude. Kids will either be passive and wallowing in self-doubt, or actively trying to change their lives for the better.

The growth mindset is something you can actively cultivate in your kids, just by how you talk with them.

Do you want your kids to have more self esteem? They will. The shift in self-esteem from a growth mindset is remarkable. Dweck reported some of her tough highschool subjects were reduced to tears once they found out their intelligence was largely under their own control. 

Do you want your kids to be good at math? Well, it turns out math ability is mostly related to working hard on difficult problems, and not some innate “math ability”.  You can help your kids get better grades in math, just by shifting a few words in your praise.

Give your kid positive praise when they demonstrate qualities which can result in growth. Give them praise for active processes they can control, things like effort, perseverance, persistence, and engagement.

You can ingrain the growth mindset in your kids with praise that focuses on the process or effort, rather than the outcome. Over time, kids will begin to associate for themselves that hard work leads to improvement. You’ll be shocked at how much this changes nearly everything they do – from school, to music, to sports. It will make them happier kids.

You can try this on yourself too, and see what happens.

What do you think? Do your kids seem fearful of putting forth effort in some situations? And do you have any experience with this kind of praising your kids?

P.S. Get 77 scripts you can use immediately to create a Growth Mindset in your kids