Why You Should STOP Telling Your Kid They Are Smart...And What To Say Instead

I had a great time as the keynote for NEISD’s 17th Annual Family Engagement Training last week. I mean check out the sunset I got to see as a part of my job.

San Antonio sunset

Absolute beauty.

While I was there I had the chance to speak with so many families who had taken a day from their work and personal lives to learn more about how to support their children in academic, social and emotional success. During my time with them I encouraged them to learn more about having a growth mindset and one of my key points was that we need to praise our kids the right way.

First let me say, positive reinforcement is a great tool even if you’re not doing it perfectly. But there has been some research on how to help kids be more successful and it’s not necessarily what might come naturally.

Years ago, there was a move to improve the self-esteem of children by increasing our verbal praise. This coincided with practices like giving participation trophies and awards for “showing up”. The idea was that if we gave everyone something, that everyone would feel good. But really this is not how it works. By giving everyone the award, we sort of made the award less valuable, and many kids in turn started expecting the praise and not doing the work from an internal motivation. This is part of why many now complain about children and young adults feeling entitled and having a poor work ethic, but really we are the result of our past decisions. So now, it’s time to make a new one.

One way we can do that is by changing the way we praise, or affirm, our children. Focusing on their efforts and not just their individual skills or talents. So that means instead of saying, “you’re so smart” you’d say, “wow, you worked so hard!”. These subtle shifts can take the focus off of the outcome and place back on the effort which is what we want them to continue.

Every word we say becomes a seed. The way that we speak to our children grows within them and shapes the way that they will eventually speak to themselves. Because they will need to acquire new skills and build on their natural talents, it’s important that we teach them to value the process and not just the product.

A couple ideas to make this work in your home. First, practice the art of affirmation on yourself. I created this manifesto for my time in San Antonio and I think it’s a great way to give ourselves a little grace while doing the same for our kids.

Raising greatness manifesto.png

You can get a pretty PDF for your phone screensaver or to print out as a reminder by clicking here. Next, share some positive thoughts with your child. You can do this verbally with some of the phrases below or by slipping a note into their bookbag or lunchbox to be opened later in the day.

  • I know you did your best

  • I am grateful for you

  • I love being your mom

  • You are so important to me

  • You don’t have to be perfect to be amazing

  • It’s good to be curious

  • Everyday you get better

  • It’s okay to be scared

  • You can make a difference

After a little practice you’ll notice that this becomes easier. My favorite is when the kids start practicing affirmations on us and return the favor of a word of encouragement or praise. Want to get more of these tools periodically? Text GREAT2019 to 77948 and I’ll be in touch soon.