Hard Work

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As if raising a child in the age of academic tutoring for two-year-olds wasn't already insanely stressful, experts have dealt a blow to the one no-brainer in everyone's parenting arsenal: over-the-top praise.

Turns out, telling little Emma she's a genius every three minutes won't encourage her to become the next Einstein, but will make her afraid to try new things that may disprove that perception. We're now supposed to praise process and effort, but not intelligence. What's not clear is how that should sound exactly. Am I the only parent who was presented by her four-year-old with a robot crafted from an old shoe and a toothpick, and exclaimed: "Amazing! You are so ... so process-oriented!"

And what about grandparents? Because I've had zero success convincing my mother to stop telling the kids: "You are genius. Not like your mother. She was genius. I don't know what happened."

My friend Nancy went to a lecture. That night, as she's explaining the inverse effects of praise to her husband, he lights up like he's having an Ah Ha! moment and yells: "I knew it!" Then he calls over to their kid: "Hey! You're as thick as a post!"

That cannot possibly be how it goes, I say.


She shrugs. She doesn't know either so she says things like: "I just couldn't ask for anyone who practices like you do."

Fine, I say, but just so you know, that sounds like you're having trouble with English.

Clearly some clarification is in order. If experts want to flip the script on us, at least provide some phrases we can throw out in a pinch.

I corner two child development experts from Stanford. After quizzing them for a good hour, I sift through my pages of notes and pull together a cheat sheet.


If you want to tell your kid she's brilliant, say: "You must have worked hard on that."

You think he's a genius? How about: "You worked really hard on that" or "You're the hardest working kid in the history of kids."

And if you're ever stuck, there's always: "You hard worker, you." Just two words for you: 'hard' and 'work.' Yes, I'll have to laminate these.

With a Perspective, I'm Amanda Enayati.