Tuesday, January 26, 2010

He's not smart after all - How I've ruined my son

The snow has restarted in earnest around here.  Leaving class last night, it appeared as the the wind and snow was conspiring to make a blizzard.  Coming home, I could see the little whirling snow rivers created by our passage highlighted by the headlights of the car behind us.  This is the kind of weather I can support.  Of course, the fact that we regularly get weather like this makes me look askance at those southern folk.  I guess when you don't get weather, it's hard to know what to do when you get it. 

 Little Guy and I were working on his letters and numbers yesterday, and I praised him to the heavens, just like any other parent.  Then I read an interesting article (Don't Call My Kid Smart) that has me rethinking how I approach this.  Jeff Weinstock writes that we shouldn't call our kids "smart".  By labeling them as "smart" and attributing their success to natural talent, we set them up for failure and, even worse, we set them up not to try. 

I can see some of this emerging now.  I have called Little Guy smart ever since he started exhibiting advanced tendencies.  He can count to 100, how smart he must be.  He can read some of the simpler books, he is so smart.  But getting him to practice, getting him to do the stuff he's NOT good at...  Then he balks and doesn't want to try.  Why?  Because it's not easy for him and he already recognizes that he is "smart" and therefore things will come to him without having to work at it. 

As we all know, though, life does not favor the easy route.  If you want something, you have to work for it.  This is true in all things: school, work, and even relationships.  This puts me in an awkward place though.  He is smart and I know it.  He does have a high level of innate intelligence and things will come easier for him than they will for others.  He is fortunate to have that ability.  But, that doesn't mean there isn't a certain level of effort he must put forth to succeed. 

But, how should I praise him now?  Telling a 4 year old: "Great effort!" or "What a nice try!" just doesn't seem right.  Those are the phrases that you give to kids who really do mean well, but just can't quite reach that bar.  Those are lines that just seem coated with an undertone of pity that you feed to kids to ensure their self-esteem isn't too damaged by failure.  And by avoiding the use of the word "smart", are we in danger of hurting our kids' self-esteem by not acknowledging their intelligence?  No one warned me that being a parent was so dangerous.  Are we all destined to ruin our children either by over-inflating their egos or destroying their self-esteem?

After discussing the article with Big Guy last night, he's of the opinion that I read too much and worry too much.  He says that Little Guy will likely survive the fact that I call him smart and be the better for it.  He's got a point and was in a position to know.  Back when we first dated, he did audits for CPS and it truly upset him at what some of those poor children went through.  And, to a certain extent, he's right. At the same time, I do need to find ways to praise and encourage Little Guy for the work he does.  

In more amusing news, I finally found my keys while I was at school last night.  They've been missing since before Christmas and I was really getting worried that I had done something horrible with them or maybe even left them someplace.  I found them in my purse.  Yeah, I know, I know. 

Watching Jimmy Fallon last night, I realized that Little Guy's hair style is catching on.  Michael Cera has the same exact hairstyle.  I can now pass it off as intentional.  I would like to point out that my son had that hairstyle long before Michael Cera did though.  That's my boy, always on the cutting edge of fashion.  And he's super smart to boot. 

Dammit, he'll never recover from having me as a mother! 


Glenna Frazier said...

I think you are doing a fine job. Don't read to much into the articals you read about raising children. Think about it this way most of the so called experts don't have children. Or they have never raised children. Their knowledge comes from books on the subject written by other so called experts.
Children need the encouragement and support we as parents and grandparents give them.
I beleive that knowing they have our faith in their abilities helps them to acheive their goals.
I'm no expert but I did raise 2 wonderful daughters. And have 2 wonderful grandsons as well.

Mom of Four said...

I believe in what my husband always tells me, we will raise our children our own way, parents have different ways of raising, encouraging or disciplining their kids, and I can tell that you are doing a great job with your son. When my son did something amazing, I can't help but say he's smart, he's 7 and he can read very well. If you read so many articles on how to raise children, you will find that you are doing it wrong. So, I don't read anything, I have 4 kids and they are all great children, they might not be the smartest nor gifted, but, they are all well bahaved and that's what matters to me. Your son is smart to be able to read at age 4.

Heather Kephart said...

Excellent post! I worry about the same things. I tell my kids "You're so smart!" all the time, and handsome, pretty, that type of thing. I stress every time I do it for the same reasons you do.

I think you're right. They're going to be okay as long as we make sure they understand the value of hard work, and that being smart can offer you a head start, but you'll be left at the starting line without hard work and follow-through.

Just think of the generations of kids called "stupid" by their parents. Sometimes they grow up wanting to prove their parents wrong, but I can't believe that it's good for them.