Why You Should Not Praise Your Child for Being 'clever'

Why You Should Not Praise Your Child for Being 'clever'

This could backfire in a very unusual way...

Whether your child tops a competitive exam or wins a prize for drawing, praising them is your natural response. Of course, other rewards may follow. But praise is perhaps one of the most common ways to reward children. 

Recent research, however, reveals that praise of that sort is more likely to make your child cheat.

Experts say that over-praising can make your child cheat

According to two studies, incorrectly praising your child can boomerang badly. Professon Kang Lee, along with international research colleagues, conducted and published these studies. He is from the University of Toronto’s Ontario Institute for Studies and Education (OISE).

A study published in the journal Psychological Science says that praise is one of the most commonly used ways to reward children. They further state: “However, praising children for being smart carries unintended consequences. It can undermine their achievement motivation in a way that praising their effort or performance does not.”

The study revealed that preschoolers in China who received praise for being “so smart” were more likely to cheat. But kids who received praise for doing “very well” or got no such compliments, were less likely to do so. 

ways to reward children

The study was conducted with preschoolers in China. | Image: file image

In another study that Kang Lee co-authored, Chinese preschoolers complimented for their intelligence were more willing to cheat in tests and games.

Why can praising your child lead to cheating?

For the past 20 years, Professor Lee has been studying the reasons behind why a child cheats. He explains that as soon as they learn the language, children learn to be dishonest. He shared that while praising has many benefits, the way you express yourself can have negative effects.

Why You Should Not Praise Your Child for Being 'clever'

Children learn to be dishonest as soon as they learn the language. | Image: iStock

According to him, this is what happens:

  • Praising your child for their intelligence can make them feel pressurised to excel at all times.
  • As a result, they tend to be afraid of failure or becoming a source of their parents’ or teachers’ disappointment. 
  • This fear leads them to cheat so that they can meet high expectations. 

About his more recent studies, he shares: “We were surprised that three-year-olds were able to do it.”

His past research has established a connection between the child’s ability to tell a lie convincingly and their cognitive and social development.

Professor Lee’s tips for parents

Professor Kang Lee agrees that for parents, it’s so much easier to say: you’re smart. But to protect the child from negative impacts of praise, he shares some simple tips.

Why You Should Not Praise Your Child for Being 'clever'

He says:

  • Avoid using labels like “smart” when praising or complimenting your child. 
  • It is more appropriate to praise your child for the efforts that they put in or with reference to specific actions. 
  • He suggests using statements like, “You’re doing great,” or “You are performing well,” instead of saying, “You are smart!”

Apart from that, Professor Lee has also pointed out that educators in Canada strive to highlight the efforts of the children.

At the same time, he also advises that parents need not lose hope if they find out that their child is cheating. Learning to tell a lie is a milestone of development. And what’s more, you can manage it before it becomes a problem. 

When praising your child, do remember to use statements that talk about their efforts or the actions that they are taking to achieve the expected results. 


Sources: CTV News, Association for Psychological Science

ALSO READ: 6 Compliments that can have a negative effect on your child

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Written by

Prutha Soman

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