5 Ways to Raise a Smart Kid

Further to my previous post on raising smart kids, I thought it was interesting to note Gavin’s behaviour when he plays with his shape sorter.


I first introduced the shape sorter to Gavin when he was ten months old.  He learned pretty quickly how to fit the circle into the round hole and subsequently, the octagon (which conveniently fits into the round hole as well – a flaw the manufacturers should take note of).

On the box of the shape sorter, it says for age 1 and above, so naturally I was really pleased that Gavin had already learned to fit a couple of the shapes.  When he first did it, I was so excited, I praised him profusely for being such a “clever” boy.  Sadly, I think my praise was his downfall.

If you look at the picture, you can see that he is trying to work out how to fit the other shapes.  When I was too generous with my praise of “clever boy”, Gavin stopped trying to fit the other shapes.  He would put in the circle and the octagon and then look at us and wait for applause.  After that, he would demand that we open the shape sorter and release the circle and octagon so he could do it all over again.  He was not interested in the other pieces that he had not learned to fit in.  If we insisted that he do the other pieces, his attention would be diverted elsewhere and he would no longer interested to play with the shape sorter.

Initially, I didn’t realise it had anything to do with what I had said, but after my SIL pointed it out and showed me the article on Raising Smart Kids, I realised what they had said was true.  You should never praise your child for being smart, but praise them for the effort they put in to achieving something.  What I should have done with Gavin was commend him on his effort rather than tell him he was clever.

The problem with telling a child he is smart is that he starts to think that his intelligence is limited.  What he’s born with is all he will ever have, therefore when he reaches a problem he cannot solve, he gets discouraged and either thinks he’s stupid or not capable of solving the problem.  That often leads to the child avoiding difficult problems in fear of “looking stupid”.  Children who are told they are smart have the idea that they shouldn’t have to struggle to achieve things and that everything should come easily.  The moment they encounter a problem that they could potentially stumble on, they will rather avoid tackling the problem in fear of “looking stupid” rather than relish the challenge that the problem presents.

When I was growing up, I remember my Mum saying how smart my cousin was but what a waste that he never used his intelligence.  Instead, he played up in class and he never wanted to do his homework.  Does that sound like someone you know?  Part of the problem with these “smart kids” is that they have been told so many times that they are “smart”, “gifted”, “talented”, etc. that they start to assume everything should come easily to them.  They feel that they shouldn’t look like they have to struggle to complete the work because of their “smart” status.  As a result, when the work does get harder and they do have to struggle, they would rather not do it.  Hence, you end up with these so-called “smart” kids who waste their “talents”.

So what can you do to avoid the pitfalls?

The article recommends offering praise such as, “Wow!  You worked really hard to get that grade, well done!”  The emphasis being on your child’s effort rather than upon his intellect.  This encourages your child to develop a growth mindset and to continually pursue more challenges rather than avoid them.

Even when praising a child whom you think is a talented artist, you should say something like, “I love the detail you put into your picture,” rather than saying, “You’re great at drawing.”

In short, here are five ways to ensure your child becomes a smart kid:

1. Praise the efforts of your child rather than innate talent or intelligence, such as saying, “Wow, you scored 90% on your test, you must have worked really hard for it!”  Instead of saying, “Wow, you’re really smart to score 90% on your test.”

2. Teach your child about how his brain works – it is like a muscle that you can keep building – rather than letting him assume his intelligence is finite.  That way, when he encounters a problem he can’t handle, he will try harder to work it out rather than give up because he thinks the problem is beyond the scope of his abilities.

3. Encourage your child to tackle challenges.  If you find a problem too easy for your child, you can say something like, “That was too easy!  No fun!  Let’s try something harder!”  This helps to foster a spirit for taking on harder problems.

4. Tell your child about success stories that emphasise hard work and the love for learning – such stories will help your child thrive when he faces his greatest challenges.  People like Tiger Woods, Mozart, and Thomas Edison might have been known as geniuses in their arena but they got there through a lot of dedication, persistence and hard work.

5. Help your child view his mistakes as learning opportunities to improve himself rather than limitations to his abilities.


  1. figur8 says:

    Thanks for visiting, Shannon. As parents, it is easy to get blinded by our children’s achievements and go overboard with praise for their “innate talents”. Just as it is with everything else in parenting, how we phrase our words to our children is very important. Just as we don’t tell a child he is bad but rather point out what it is specifically that he did wrong so he doesn’t assume that everything about him is bad.

  2. Great insightful article! Who would’ve thought that even a good thing like praising your kid can also work adversely. Experience is truly a great teacher. Great tips!

  3. figur8 says:

    I’m really glad my SIL told me about this article. We often praise children for their innate intelligence because we mean well, but not realising how it affects them in a negative way!

  4. Pat says:

    Great list of suggestions. I agree with positive reinforcement for effort. Many times in my classroom I see students who aren’t even willing to try because they are afraid of failure. I tell them that as long as they give me full effort, there is no way to fail and I won’t let them. It is so wonderful to watch them make great strides.


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