2 articles Tag clever

Effort vs. Intelligence: Are We Failing to Prepare Our Kids for Failure?

clever kidsA few weeks ago, Husband directed me towards a really interesting article in New York Magazine about how we speak to our children. The basic premise of the piece, which was actually published back in 2007, is that when we constantly tell our kids how ‘clever’ they are (especially if they actually are of above average intelligence), they’re less likey to try something if they think they’ll fail. The main subject of the piece, Thomas, actually shunned activities unless he thought he’d excel at them because he was so used to the cycle of praise and achievement:

But as Thomas has progressed through school, this self-awareness that he’s smart hasn’t always translated into fearless confidence when attacking his schoolwork. In fact, Thomas’s father noticed just the opposite. “Thomas didn’t want to try things he wouldn’t be successful at,” his father says. “Some things came very quickly to him, but when they didn’t, he gave up almost immediately, concluding, ‘I’m not good at this.’ ” With no more than a glance, Thomas was dividing the world into two—things he was naturally good at and things he wasn’t.

It really got me thinking about how I speak to Sausage and the importance that I place on intelligence and academic achievement. I wrote a post a few weeks ago about how I felt, as a child, that too much pressure was placed upon my using my intelligence, rather than being encouraged to pursue things about which I was passionate, and despite making an enormous effort to nurture Sausage with whatever  it is that makes her happy, I know for a fact that I’m guilty of constantly telling her how clever she is.

Sausage definitely needs a little encouragement to push herself outside of her comfort zone, especially when it comes to physical endeavours, and I can’t help but wonder if we should have placed more emphasis on “what a fantastic effort you’ve made!” instead of “what a clever girl you are!” and therefore created a cycle of reward for TRYING rather than BEING.

Further to the theme of the article about ‘clever’ kids refusing to try anything which might result in failure, I think it’s also possible to create a culture of not needing to try – I know for a fact that if I’d knuckled down before my exams, I could have been an A student across most subjects, but I coasted and made very little effort, and ended up with mostly B’s. I was a clever kid, by no means ‘top 1% of the top 1%’ like the boy in the article, but a lot of what was written in the piece really rang true for me. If I thought I’d be ‘rubbish’ at something, I never even tried, but I also put in minimal effort at a lot of things because plenty of stuff came very naturally to me, too.

I also wonder if, as parents and society, we don’t teach our kids well enough how to cope with failure and disappointment. Perhaps if we were to teach them that failure is a natural part of trying and needn’t be viewed as a negative all the time, simply part of a learning experience, then they may be more willing to put themselves out there. I know that if I’d, as a child, been told “failure doesn’t matter, it’s the effort that counts”, I’d have been a lot more willing to attempt things that I wasn’t naturally good at.

What do you think, dear readers? Are we letting our kids down by being TOO encouraging, rather than letting them know that failure is okay? Or do you think that by allowing kids to fail, they’ll make LESS effort overall? I’d love to know your thoughts on this.

The Pitfalls of Having an Intelligent Child

Sausage is a very intelligent kid. She’s one of, if not the, youngest in her class and she reads at the top level with kids who are a full year older. Her teacher is constantly regaling us with stories of “amazing” things she’s come out with in class, like the time they were discussing The North Pole and the things you’d find there. The other kids were saying things like snow, ice etc. Sausage sat thinking for a while then shoved her hand confidently up before offering “Arctic Orcas!”. As most of my readers probably know, we’re big on Natural History lessons in this house, so that was a fairly normal thing for her to come out with by our standards, but apparently she’s not an average 4-year-old!

Now, for the most part, having a bright kid is fantastic. She has a thirst for knowledge that Husband and I love to quench and we spend a lot of family time learning together. However, at times, it can be a challenge. Here are just a few of the ways in which she keeps me on my toes.

Smart-Assery

With Sausage’s level of intelligence comes a concurrent level of confidence that, at times, can be a little maddening. Often, she’ll ask me a question only to reply to my answer with “I KNOW!” and I’ve lost count of the amount of times in her life that I’ve said the phrase “Well if you already know, why did you ask me?!”

She’s also been known to reply to my accusations of smart-assery with “Er, no Mummy, I think you’re a smarty-pants!”, the response to which is usually my head spontaneously exploding. Don’t get me wrong, she’s never naughty or obnoxious, she’s just genuinely that confident of her own brain, which is good…I guess!

She’s also started questioning my reasoning on things. She’ll often counter my answers to requests with “Why?” and on more than one occasion I’ve done that thing that I said I’d never do…”BECAUSE I SAID SO!”. Sometimes, there just is no other answer.

Spelling Test

In the past, Husband and I could do that thing where if we didn’t want Sausage to know what we’re talking about, we could spell things out. We knew it wouldn’t last forever as she’d learn to spell eventually, but we didn’t expect her to become so exceptionally good at it at such a young age. As a result, we now speak Pig-Latin when we’re being deceptive, but I’ve seen her looking at us and working out what we’re saying when we do that too, so I guarantee it won’t be long before she’s EAKING-SPAY right back at us…

Stimulation

Most kids, aged four, are probably happy to do one thing at a time. Sausage, however, needs a certain level of mental stimulation to stop her from being bored, which means that, and I’m not exaggerating here, she’s often doing three things at once. At this very moment, she’s watching TV, writing in her pad and playing a game on her Nexus 7. All of that is fine, I’m happy for her to entertain herself in whatever way she wants, but sometimes it can be exhausting trying to keep up with her!

Play Time

She’s very much into that girly thing at the moment of role-playing. She’ll say “Mummy, do you want to play with me?” and then bestow me with an elaborate script of things I have to say in response to what she’s going to say. And if I don’t do it right the first time, often she’ll stop and we’ll have to start all over again, complete with grand entrances on Micro Scooters and all sorts. I love that she has such a vivid imagination but it’s not always that easy to stay on top of the web of character and plot development that she weaves and I fear I’m a massive disappointment to her.

Emotions and Comprehension

Sausage is a sensitive soul and up to a point, we were able to shield her from some of the harsher realities of life. The thing is, as she gets older, it’s harder to keep things from her. We don’t always know right away when something has seeped into her big brain but sometimes, she’ll seem overly sad or emotional and it will turn out that something has upset her like a news report or something she’s heard a snippet of and she’ll have spent however long trying to process it. Emotional development isn’t always in-line with intellectual development and it can be heartbreaking to see her brain grasping a concept which she’s too young to know how to react to.

So, do you have a intelligent kid who runs rings around you too? Or am I the only one who’s being totally bested by a four-year old?!