Are we damaging our kids by telling them they are smart? A new study says yes!

By Melissa Willets

I tell my children how beautiful and smart they are, probably every day. So I'm an awesome parent, right? Not according to a new study in Psychology Today that says complimenting your kids in this manner may have "unintended consequences" other than making them feel good about themselves.

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In fact, researchers claim praising a child's intelligence can actually undermine their achievement motivation. But that's not all; kids who are told they are bright may even be more likely to cheat in school. Say what?

According to the study, there are different types of praise, that affect kids differently. So for example, telling a child he is good motivates him to maintain that reputation by doing good things. But telling a child he is a smarty pants will ultimately encourage him to cheat so he continues to be viewed as such.

To reach their conclusions, researchers looked at 300 3- to 5-year-olds in China playing a guessing game with an instructor. Then, one randomly assigned group of children was told how smart they were. Another group was told they did well, while a third group received no praise. The teacher left the room after telling kids not to cheat and look at answers on another desk. Well guess what? The kiddos whose intelligence was praised peeked much more than the other groups.

Of course, the study's co-author Gail Heyman acknowledges, "It's common and natural to tell children how smart they are." She added, "What our study shows is that the harm can go beyond motivation and extend to the moral domain. It makes a child more willing to cheat in order to do well."

"We want to encourage children," co-author Dr. Kang Lee also said. "We want them to feel good about themselves. But these studies show we must learn to give children the right kinds of praise, such as praising specific behavior. Only in this way will praise have the intended positive outcomes."

So in an ideal world, you'd want to praise a child for studying hard, or getting a good grade to encourage that behavior to continue. But guess what? I'm still going to tell my kids how amazingly smart I think they are. And I'll praise their behavior. I'm doing it all! I just figure there are enough people out there who will make them feel bad, and I'm here to make my children feel awesome, every day. So take that, research!

What is your take?

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Melissa Willets is a writer, mom and coffee devotee. Find her on Facebook and Instagram where she chronicles her life momming under the influence. Of yoga.



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