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Can You Boost Your Child’s Intelligence?

What makes a smart kid may surprise you

Your Child's IQ: Experience Sculpts the Brain continued...

Your Child's IQ: Effort and Mindset

Carol Dweck, PhD, professor of psychology at Stanford University and author of Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, has studied yet another key to making a smart child. Through 20 years of research, she's found that differences in children's mindsets affect their motivation to learn and ultimately their performance in school.

Dweck learned that middle school students who believed intelligence was fixed tried to preserve their self-image by only doing what they -- as smart kids -- already knew how to do well. "They didn't want to risk their precious label -- being smart," says Dweck. Their fixed mindset, ultimately, could limit intelligence growth.

By contrast, kids with a "growth mindset" were attracted to challenges even if they failed at first. These kids thought about what they would do differently next time, such as how they would study harder to score higher on a test. When asked what they would do differently, kids with a "fixed mindset" said they would study less or even consider cheating.

"After all, if you think intelligence is fixed and you do poorly, what are your choices?" says Dweck.

So she took her work further. She began to teach kids that the brain is like a muscle, it gets stronger with use, it makes new connections and this can make you smarter over time. When she re-tested these students who had learned to have a "growth mindset," their grades and study habits improved considerably after only two months.

A Child's IQ: Praise the Effort

Dweck began her research after seeing parents put too much emphasis on praising "intelligence" and pushing their kids. She learned early on that certain kinds of praise actually backfire.

Praising only intelligence can send the message that being smart is a natural gift and thus out of a child's control, she says. Instead, give kids the idea that hard work is always needed for achievement.

If you want to praise, she says, praise your child's process, commitment, the strategies that work. Focus on the learning, not just the grades. Do you tell your child, "Easy A, wow, you're smart!" Or, do you ask, "What did you learn in that class?"

Children praised lavishly for their past high performance may be harmed even more than kids who have typically done less well, says Dweck. "The high performers think it's beneath them to try hard -- that it's just for dummies. There's a false promise here: You're so smart, it will just come to you." And when academic success doesn't just happen, some kids may worry that they're no longer the whiz kids they once thought they were and lose their motivation to study.

Of course, we all come with certain natural abilities, says Dweck. "But just because some have a more natural ability doesn't mean others can't learn the skill, too."

"Parents need to value learning, progress, effort, resilience," she says. "Their children will take that with them and enjoy it for a lifetime."

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Reviewed on June 01, 2007

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