Gifted Children and the Nature of Praise

Praising gifted children for their intelligence may negatively affect their self-esteem in the future.

| March/April 2012

  • Pressure For Good Grades
    Gifted children may feel lost when their intelligence doesn’t measure up.

  • Pressure For Good Grades

If you feel crushed when your boss doesn’t applaud your every move, you might carry the curse of the gifted child, reports Harvard Business Review (November 21, 2011). Children who receive an overload of affirmation for their intelligence, rather than their effort, develop a belief that ability is innate and unchangeable, which encourages them to lean toward things that come easily.

In a Columbia University study, bright fifth graders were evaluated to determine how praise affected performance. The students were given three sets of problems: the first easy, the second impossible, the third simple. Every child succeeded on the first and failed the second, but their results on the third varied depending on earlier feedback. Saying “You must be really smart!” to one group resulted in a 25 percent drop in scores on the final set. Conversely, the group that received commendation for effort (“You must have worked really hard!”) improved their outcome by 25 percent. The “smart” students became stymied, while the “hardworking” kids persisted, feeling that if they tried hard enough, they would succeed.

Ironically, writes the Review, “gifted children grow up to be more vulnerable, and less confident, even when they should be the most confident people in the room.”

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