Praise My Journey, Not My Intelligence

By “Tabitha”, Age 16

My mom always tells me that I’m doing a good job at home and school. She would surprise me by placing small motivational notes in my lunchbox when I was in elementary school. They would always say how she loved me and to keep up the good work.

Her notes stopped once I got to middle school. I guess she feels they would embarrass me. She is so right!  But, she has never stopped praising me for doing my work. My teachers do the same. They tell me how smart I am. I believe them…sometimes. Secretly, I think what they are saying is a joke. I hate to disappoint the adults in my life, so I play it safe. At home and school, I take on easy projects and assignments. Also, I do my best to look smart. What is this? Where is my confidence?

Educationalist, Carol Dweck, says the problem maybe with how the adults in my life are praising me. In Carol Dweck’s TED (Technology, Entertainment and Design) Talk, she explains her theory on Mindsets and how they are relevant to developing a child’s potential. Ms. Dweck explains how children view their intellect and abilities by what Mindset they hold. Her research concluded that two types of Mindsets exist in children, Fixed and Growth.

Children with Fixed Mindsets believe they have limited intelligence and abilities. They tend to be afraid to try new things and take risk. They are fearful of looking dumb and stupid in front of their peers. Looking smart is very high on their list of importance and they will go out their way to hold on to this image. They also believe setbacks and failures measure their value and may reveal their limits. Therefore, hiding their mistakes and failures becomes necessary. Children that hold this mindset is easily discouraged and can become defensive. A well-known cover for them is the term “I’m bored,” which technically means, “I’m afraid to try”.

That’s me! That’s me!  My mom always tells me that I’m doing a good job at home and school.

According to Dweck’s study, the problem is not the praise itself but on “what” I’m being praise for.  A “Growth” Mindset child sees himself or herself as having an unlimited amount of space to grow. They are the complete opposite of the Fixed Mindset group. They understand that intelligence and ability are developed through effort, dedication and learning. Also, they believe mistakes and setbacks are a natural part of learning.

Dweck learned that praising a child’s intelligence or the result of a child’s ability could result in Fixed Mindsets. For example, parents and teachers often give children praise when they have completed their work. They might say, “Keep up the good work.” This kind of praise can lead kids to second-guessing themselves. They become afraid that they will disappoint the adults in their lives. Why? The child is unsure of how to do their work, the process. The adults have not assured the child that they are on the right track. Their praise focuses only on the result. To not disappoint and play it safe, the child began to show traits of a Fixed Mindset.

Dweck explains that praising a child’s journey or process gives them more confidence. They feel confident about the way they went about doing their work and the result is a development of a “Growth” Mindset.

Yes, I understand it! I can see how this relates to me. I do play it safe and not take on new challenges. I do this to stick with what I do know. New challenges are hard and I am unsure of how to do them. I am afraid to raise the white flag to say, “Help”. I believe my mom and teachers think I should be confident enough to try anything. So, according to Dweck, if the adults in my life praise my journey it will give me better confidence in knowing I am on the right course of action. I can’t wait to tell my mom and teachers.

Hey, mom, guess what I have learned…