Thomas Ramey Watson

Carol Dweck, Stanford University Professor, On Why Telling Your Children They’re Smart Is Actually Bad For Them (VIDEO)

Dweck, a psychology professor at Stanford University and author of Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, spoke with Shihab-Eldin at the Aspen Ideas Festival in June.

Dweck’s research shows that people break down into two basic psychological mindsets: fixed and growth. Those with fixed mindsets tend to think that basic abilities and talents are fixed traits. They are less curious, less interested in learning, and more reluctant to do anything where they might make a mistake.

Those with growth mindsets, on the other hand, are more willing to “stretch themselves to learn new things.” “They take on challenges, they stick to them; and they bounce back from failures,” Dweck said.

Telling kids how smart they are places undue emphasis on intelligence and inherent, fixed traits. By focusing on the process of acquiring knowledge and the ability to overcome challenges, however, parents can foster a growth mindset. “I tell parents, ‘Sit around the dinner table and say, ‘Who had a fabulous struggle today?'” Dweck said. “You’re creating a new value system around struggle and persistence and resilience, not around being naturally smart.”

Dweck and her colleagues are applying this concept to many other fields, including willpower, relationships, bullying, and even the Middle East. For one project, they conducted three separate studies with Israeli Jews, Palestinian citizens of Israel, and Palestinians in the West Bank. The results were impressive.


I can tell you of seeing the same sorts of results as a professor. When you gush over everything a student does, they don’t work that hard to improve. Because many profs and teachers are doing so nowadays, and have for some time, especially the popular ones, most students expect nothing less than a B-, even though they should be assigned Ds. I say something good wherever I can. But I always push on them, even my A and B students (and of course there are some), to do better, excel more, work always toward wonderful work. It’s unrealistic and harmful to say that everyone is outstanding. It just isn’t so. Never has been. Never will be.

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