There's a Big Downside to Praising Your Kid for Being Smart | Working Mother

There's a Big Downside to Praising Your Kid for Being Smart

How you phrase it makes a difference.

Being Praised for Intelligence Makes Kids More Likely to Cheat

Kids feel more pressure to do well with this kind of praise.

Photo: iStock

You may think your child is naturally intelligent, but here's a reason you may not actually want him or her to know that. According to two new studies from the University of Toronto, kids who are praised for being smart or learn that they have a reputation for being bright may be more inclined to cheat on exams, CBS reports.

In the first study, published in the journal Psychological Science, 3- and 5-year-olds were instructed to play a guessing game. As soon as a child performed well the first time, half of the children received praise for being intelligent, in the form of sentences like, "You are so smart," while the other half received it for performance, with sentences like, "You did very well this time." Eventually, researchers left the room. Kids, who kept playing, were instructed not to cheat by looking at the answers, but researchers were able to watch behavior via hidden camera.

In the second study, published in the journal Developmental Science, each child was told that he or she had a reputation for being smart, according to a news release from the University of Toronto.

Both studies concluded that when kids are told that they're bright or think they have a reputation for being intelligent their tendency to cheat increases. “Giving children [the] wrong kind of praise makes them dishonest,” said Kang Lee, a professor with the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education at the University of Toronto and co-author of both of the studies.

The reason why calling a child intelligent may be detrimental is because it implies that the quality is a natural ability, research suggests. According to Li Zhao, professor at Hangzhou Normal University and another co-author of both studies, kids who are called smart or feel they have a reputation for being smart "feel pressure to perform well in order to live up to others' expectations, even if they need to cheat to do so." On the other hand, praising a child's specific behavior doesn't imply anything about natural ability, so it doesn't carry the same pressure for the the kid to perform well on a regular basis.

Keep this in mind the next time your kid aces that test—and choose your language carefully.

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