Thursday, April 28, 2011

Smart vs Hardworking kids

Photo credit: Simon A. (age 6)

My husband and I always wrestle with the concept of our kids being intelligent, having high expectations of themselves and working hard.  I have a tendency to smother and I sometimes fear that that could lead to my older son returning home at 30. However, that's another post!  My kids are smart...but do they work hard? I'm not sure what the answer is to that question. I see them doing work and writing papers but are they working at their full potential?  I have a theory for my children. To be successful student athletes they must be disciplined. Balancing sporting activities, a rigorous highschool curriculum and a hectic social life requires discipline and hard work.

We try to instill hard work in our children. However, I never know if they're listening. Their grades are good. Nevertheless, in this competitive world, sometimes good is not enough. I really want them to appreciate hard work and discipline. I want them to work towards accomplishing their goals. I want them to be driven and motivated. Most of all, I want them to be present and enjoy their accomplishments. Can they accomplish this by being smart? Or do they have to work hard?

My husband read recently in the 1st chapter of NurtureShock [The Inverse Power of Praise; "Sure he’s special, but if you tell him that, you’ll ruin him. It’s a nurological fact.”] that if we tell our kids how smart they are they won't work to their full potential and we can ruin them.  Yet another thing for a mom to worry about! Have I already ruined my kids? is it too late? The theory is that kids who are told that they are smart do not put effort into their work. Afterall, they're already smart, there's no need for them to work hard. My kids might already be ruined because I always tell them that they're smart. The book also alludes to the fact that when you praise your kids for their hard work, they continually work hard to accomplish their goals. They understand that their hardwork creates the success. I really wish kids came with a damn manual!

Though teaching hardwork is justifiable, it is my belief that in addition, our children also learn from the examples around them like parents, mentors, coaches, etc. If our children witness that the successful adults around them work hard, they'll be inclined to do the same. When I use the word 'successful', I do not mean wealth. I mean working towards a task and accomplishing it. But I'm no psychologist. This is only my 'mum' opinion.  What do you think? Do you think that it's counter productive to tell our kids that they're smart? Do you agree that hard work 'trumps' being smart? Can a child be both smart and hard working? Please share your thoughts.

All I can hope and pray for is that we 'do right'  while helping shape the minds of our children. I need them to be respectful, law abiding, hardworking, empathetic citizens. That's success. If I accomplish that, then maybe, just maybe, they won't return home when they're 30 and take over the room that was once theirs. Be patient, be supportive, be balanced and embrace your journey.


  1. I've observed something with my six year old Gabriel , if I tell him he's smart he can do it he is prone to trying his best to get a project done successfully . Praise him at the end of the task and he looks proud that he accomplished it. I guess at a certain age it's ok but I totally get your lesson here . LOVE LOVE LOVE IT Nicole . Hope I can recognize when the cut of date for all the praises ends ;) ...Joy

  2. I must say Freud's theory of positive reinforcement works for me. Granted my son is only 4 yrs old I never label his abilities "smart" but continuously share encouraging words and praises for a job well done. My son is at the age where he want to be acknowledged for all of his efforts and rightfully so. However i use it to my advantage by indicating hard work pays off ;) Also his father and I took this opportunity to start asking him if he was also proud of his own accomplishments. I believe this is just as important because it allows your child to develop self esteem and a sense of self worth. Not sure how long this would last but pray that some of it stays with him.