Beyond Words

Words, Wit and Wisdom for Today's Style and Decision Makers

Why I’m Glad My Daughter Wasn’t the Smartest Girl in Her Class September 3, 2014

Filed under: Uncategorized — carlawordsmithblog @ 10:33 pm



“If you’re the smartest person in the room, find a different room.”  Michael Dell


Did you hear the one about the scientist who made a lot of money but had no cents, as in common sense?  Well, it’s no joke.  Apparently the sharpest tool in the shed isn’t what we should want for ourselves or our children.


According to researchers as reported by Khan Academy officials, the brain is like a muscle and the more you use it, the more it grows, and the more you struggle, the more you use your brain.  In math terms this means struggle=usage=growth.  Think of any other muscle in your body.  If you don’t use your calf muscles, they won’t grow, neither will your biceps.  The brain is much like those other muscles and actually grows when you don’t know it all.  Awesome!


Researchers found that neural connections form and deepen most when we make mistakes doing difficult tasks rather than repeatedly enjoying success with easy tasks.  The best way to grow your intelligence they say, is to embrace tasks you might struggle with…or even fail at!


This my friends and trusty readers, is why I’m so grateful my daughter didn’t graduate number one in her class or that everything came easy for her.  It didn’t.  She has worked hard for her successes, which I always thought not only brought accomplishment but made her more grateful and more determined than ever.  Now come to find out all those struggles and failures actually made her brain more intelligent.  Sweet!


Dr. Carol Dweck of Stanford University has been studying people’s minds and has discovered that most are one of two mindsets:  fixed or growth.  In her research, she’s determined that fixed mindsets mistakenly believe people are either smart or not and that those smarts are purely genetic.  On the other hand, those boasting growth mindsets correctly believe that ability and intelligence can actually grow through effort, struggle, and failure.  Dweck also found that those so-called brainiacs tend to attempt only things they feel a high likelihood of succeeding at and avoid anything they may struggle with.  The result of such “fixed” mindsets?  Their learning is limited, as opposed to those with growth mindsets, who embrace challenges, value tenacity and effort, and use their imaginations.  These people are proof positive that intelligence can be taught.


How then can you, the parent of a child who learning comes easy to, keep from becoming a “fixed” mindset?   Praise their process (I like how you had a hard time with that problem but figured it out anyway) rather than praising their talents (You are so smart!)  Most importantly, encourage the struggle of learning things that are difficult and unnatural to them and continually stress the idea of being a life-long learner.


Finally, keep in mind that the brain grows most by getting questions wrong and that by embracing struggle, anyone can learn anything.


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