Category Archives: Press

Why It Isn’t Good to Label Your Child Clever

Please read my thoughts on labelling and fostering a ‘growth mindset’


Published article here

Adults are deeply conditioned to notice when children have done something wrong. We think if we point out a child’s mistakes, they will learn and change. However, criticism is demotivating and children simply stop listening.

Attitude and drive is what sets one person apart from another. It is not all about innate intelligence but rather curiosity, perseverance, creativity and seeking challenges.

An increasing number of schools are becoming aware of this. For example, my older two children at JFS have a page in their homework diary about developing a “growth mindset”.

When parents are trying to be positive, we tend to use evaluative praise. Terms like “That’s amazing”, “You’re so clever”, “Well done” or “Good girl”. This doesn’t require much effort, isn’t very genuine and doesn’t tell your child specifically what was so brilliant so they can repeat it. Children may feel you are constantly evaluating their performance.

The psychologist Carol Dweck has undertaken fascinating research into how the words we use affect our children. In her study, children had a puzzle to solve. Some were praised for effort, “You must have worked really hard”, while others were praised for ability, “You must be very smart”.

When those same children were given a harder puzzle, the ones labelled smart didn’t even want to attempt it. They develop a fixed mentality, the belief that intelligence is a fixed trait and you only have a certain amount. They avoid challenges so as not to risk appearing less clever.

Children praised for effort develop a “growth mindset”, believing intelligence can be developed through education and hard work. These children embrace challenges, persevere and want to learn.

Giving a child the label “clever” doesn’t only prevent them from under-performing, it actually causes it. With a fixed mentality, having to work hard at something is a sign of low ability.

Every word and action is sending your child a message. If you call them clever, there is no room for error. The key is to motivate so they feel confident and have strong self-esteem. Focus on what your children are doing right and mention every tiny step in the right direction. For example, “You remembered to bring your homework home”; “You are learning to do things you have to do even when you don’t want to, that shows real maturity”.

Describe the effort, attitude and strategies your child is using, not just the achievement. So not “Well done for getting 10 out of 10” but “You got full marks in your spelling test because you practised every day”. Not “That’s amazing, you scored a goal” but “You listened to the coach’s suggestions and worked well as a team” .

Using this “descriptive praise” gives children daily appreciation and approval. The magic ratio is five positive comments for every negative, usually the precise opposite of what children experience at home and in school. Try it, it is honestly the most powerful motivator I know.



Being in control versus controlling

How do you strike the balance between being ‘in control’ but not overly ‘controlling’?

For full article see page 23 of Today’s Child

The article

There are so many different terms for parenting styles (instinctive, attachment, slow, helicopter, tiger, BFF, toxic, snowplough etc.)  Sometimes there is a mistaken belief that the two main choices are either authoritarian or permissive.  However, there is somewhere in the middle known as ‘Positive Parenting’.  This is parenting with clear limits but in a loving, empathetic way.

Controlling parents mainly use fear, punishment, threatening, bribing or shouting to get children to co-operate – the old fashioned style of discipline.  But are parents who use this approach actually ‘in control’?  Many parents have told me how being raised this way damaged their self-esteem and confidence, made them feel guilt and shame and encouraged them to rebel.  They were only compliant when the parent was around and very focused on ‘not getting caught’, rather than doing the right thing because it felt good. Often these children end up too dependent and don’t think for themselves.

We absolutely need to be in control so our children are safe and responsible. In fact they won’t be prepared for adult life without our guidance and support.

So how can parents be in charge and enforce their position gently?

  1. Relationship and connection is everything. In a trusting, close relationship children will naturally want to co-operate and please us. Spend short bursts of one-to-one ‘special’ time with them. Love = Time
  2. Be empathetic. What children want most is to be heard, understood and valued. When a child is experiencing a difficult emotion, reflect back to them how they are feeling.   They will calm down quicker, know you are truly on their side and learn how to articulate their emotions.
  3. Notice and mention anything positive rather than criticising and commenting when they do something wrong. This results in more co-operation and increases the chances of your child listening to you.
  4. Establish clear rules, routines and boundaries so children know what to expect. Involve your child in creating the rules and at the same time determine the rewards and consequences so you are not making up punishments on the spur of the moment out of anger or desperation.  In the long term, punishment erodes your influence on your child.
  5. Parents should maintain a united front and agree together on the best approach. If not, children may become confused or take advantage, playing one parent off against the other.
  6. View mistakes as a learning opportunity. Encourage your child to problem solve and establish what to do differently next time.
  7. Model being a leader rather than a dictator. Try to balance both your agenda and your child’s by taking into account their temperament and stage of development.  Respect is earned by our actions and how we communicate.

It takes time, positivity, great effort and consistency to establish your influence so your child has good judgement and chooses the right path for themselves.

“The power of influence is greater than the influence of power”.