The Secret to Raising Smart Kids

Since she was a toddler, my daughter Nee has shown a natural aptitude for language. She started reading when she was three years old and has developed into a talented writer and speller.

All of her life, relatives have praised her intelligence. They often tell her things like, “You’re such a smart girl” or “You got all As because you’re so smart.”

Apparently this type of praise has been dangerous. According to a Columbia University study conducted by psychologist Carol Dweck, praising a child for her intelligence does more harm than good.

Based on Nee’s behavior, I tend to agree.

In a paper titled, “The Secret to Raising Smart Kids,” Dweck wrote:

Our society worships talent, and many people assume that possessing superior intelligence or ability—along with confidence in that ability—is a recipe for success. In fact, however, more than 30 years of scientific investigation suggests that an overemphasis on intellect or talent leaves people vulnerable to failure, fearful of challenges and unwilling to remedy their shortcomings.

When we praise children for their intelligence, we inadvertently send the wrong message: Look smart, don’t risk making mistakes.

Nee is often stifled by fear of making mistakes. If something is difficult, she becomes frustrated and immediately gives up. She never wants to be perceived as unintelligent; therefore, she would rather avoid a task than to fail at it. In her mind failure = dumb.

This study has made me rethink my parenting style. But change is not easy and I often lapse into my old behavior. A few days ago, Nee handed me a piece of paper and then ran away.

“Nee,” I said. “Come back here. What is this?”

“It’s my math test,” she said. I opened the paper to discover she had earned an 88.

“You got a B, honey,” I said. “Why didn’t you want to show this to me?”

“Because you always say that I’m too smart to earn Bs,” she said demurely. “And you get mad at me.”

Ouch! I was convicted. Not only was I placing undue pressure on her, but I was also fueling her fear of failure.

Now I understand that I need to praise her whenever she works hard and pushes through the difficult times instead of giving up. I’d much prefer Nee to take risks and make a few mistakes than to rest on her laurels.

I want people to see my daughter as more than just a smart girl. I want her to be known as someone isn’t afraid to try.

Stay Strong,

Question: Do you agree or disagree with the premise of this study?

About author

Frederick J. Goodall

Frederick J. Goodall is the founder of Mocha Dad - a parenting website focused on fatherhood. He is passionate about parenting and helping men to be great dads, husbands, and role models. You can contact him at or on Twitter at