Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Which Is More Important, Intelligence or Resilience?

Welcome back to the Parenting Blog Carnival: Around the World in Six Weeks. In this Carnival, we ask: What can we learn from parents around the world and how they raise their children?

For the next several weeks, I will join other bloggers (see below!)in writing about our reactions to Christine Gross-Loh's new book, Parenting Without Borders.

Two weeks ago, we looked at co-sleeping. Last week was on food. This week we tackle another touchy subject: Is too much self-esteem harmful to kids?

Chapter Four, "Feeling Good: Can Self-Esteem Be Harmful?" packs a punch. Gross-Loh touches on research and anecdotes about a range of topics, including self-esteem, entitlement, intelligence versus hard work, happiness and others.

With so many important and varied topics from which to choose, I felt uncharacteristically tongue-tied. I'm writing here on one aspect -- the idea of intelligence as a "fixed" trait -- but I reserve to right to circle back to this chapter in the future! (It's my blog, I can do what I want.)

On Perfection

I first came across the results of Claudia Mueller and Carol Dweck's 1998 study entitled, "Praise for Intelligence Can Undermine Children's Motivation and Performance," around 10 years ago.

The idea that telling a little girl she was smart (instead of a hard worker) might have the complete opposite-than-intended effect -- namely, that she would be so afraid of making a mistake in public, hence disproving the theory she was smart, that she would clam up -- resonated with me, because I am that little girl. At least I was.

In fact, you'd be hard pressed to find another single study that has so encapsulated my experience.

I hate making mistakes. Hate. I am a classic perfectionist, and although I may have been born with that tendency, it was definitely reinforced in my youth. I know I would be doing something different today if fear of failure had not held me back.

Being told I was smart worked fine in K-12, when I attended public school in a modest suburb. There, I excelled, generally. In college, however, I joined thousands of private- and boarding-school kids who were academically better prepared.

I expected college to be difficult, but I was not ready for what came next. I struggled in my classes and dropped the pre-med track. With all evidence of my "intelligence" gone, my self-confidence crumbled. I did not truly recover for ten years.

What Good Parents Do

Photo credit: Simon Howden
Researchers, Gross-Loh says, "are discovering that perseverance is one of the most important keys to success and achievement."

Perseverance requires resilience, the ability to bounce back after failure. This is just what we are not teaching our children when we reinforce the idea that intelligence is a fixed trait, i.e., you either have it or you don't.

What is most unbelievable to me is that the Mueller/Dweck study was published in 1998. 1998! That was 15 years ago. Why are we still debating this? Why are we still telling our children how smart and amazing they are, even for silly non-achievements like riding the merry-go-round?

Dweck tells Gross-Loh, "There is an idea now that a good parent is always telling their children how smart and talented and wonderful they are."


A good parent tells her child that he is imperfect, and she loves him anyway.


Be sure to check out the other Carnival posts on the topic of self-esteem:

Jessica @ 
School of Smock"I Can't Stop Praising My Kid!": An Unfortunate Update

Sarah @ 
Left Brain BuddhaSelf-Esteem Isn't Selfish

Stephanie @ Mommy, For Real: Is Your Child in the Gifted Program?

Lauren @ OmnimomI'd Say He's Average

Stephanie @ When Crazy Meets Exhaustion: Don't Let Your Kid Become an Arrogant A-hole

Here are the questions we'll be exploring in future posts. Please join us. You can email any of us or comment on our posts to let us know you'd like to join the Carnival -- for one or all of the remaining posts.