5 Reasons To NOT Tell Your Kids They're Smart & Special (& 5 Things To Do Instead)

Parents think their kids are the most talented, cutest, most special, best things to ever exist, and that is great: Children need to have their self-esteem boosted and deserve unconditional love and support.

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However, there is a limit. Praise can go too far. Compliments can backfire. When kiddos are constantly told that they are smart and special, they can actually begin taking shortcuts, skipping out on hard work, feeling pressured to always excel, becoming entitled, thinking that everything will be easy, and giving up altogether.

Here are the reasons and steps on how to avoid this common problem in life.

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10 They May Take Shortcuts To Success

When a child is told that they did a good job with an activity, that they are so smart for getting good grades or that their stick figure is a true masterpiece, they start to get used to hearing that and they think they can do well in every area of life.

Therefore, they may start taking shortcuts, thinking, “Oh, I did well on all my other tests, so whatever answers I choose will surely get me a good grade this time, too!” and “Mom and Dad always say I am the best on the team, and that will always be true, even if I never pass the ball or want to go to practice.”

9 Instead: Compliment Specific Abilities

Instead of sending out general compliments every time, no matter what a kid does, focus in on specific abilities. Did they get a good grade because they are just so smart? Or did the five hours of studying result in that? Did they draw a pretty picture simply because everything they touch turns to gold? Or did the art classes they reluctantly started yet now can’t ever miss lead to progress?

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Show children that their hard work, study efforts, attendance, positive attitudes and interests in new hobbies are what directly can lead to better grades, skills and more success, if done correctly.

8 They May Not Be Motivated To Work Hard

Similarly, when a child is regularly praised for all they do, they may never be motivated to actually work towards goals. Sure, a class may be easy for them, and they may be better at hitting a ball than their peers. However, they shouldn’t take natural talents for granted either.

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Even when a kiddo excels, they need to understand the value of a work ethic and know that even their teachers, pro athletes and famous actors put in time and effort on a regular basis, in order to advance and hone in on a craft.

7 Instead: Instill A Good Work Ethic

All that said, it is vital to teach children how to work hard, no matter what they are doing. Is studying always fun? No. Is spending every single weekend at a practice or game ideal? No. Is cleaning up after playing all day a breeze? No. However, these things are necessary, and kids of all ages need to know that.

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Once a child realizes the positive results that hard work can bring about, they will (hopefully) be more willing to put in even more hours studying, practicing and bettering themselves...and that can certainly be complimented!

6 They May Feel Pressured

After years of hearing flattery, a kiddo may feel pressured to always perform in an incredible way. But bad grades will happen, a shot will be missed, friends will move on, timeouts will be needed...and these natural, not-ideal times can make someone feel like a total mess.

If someone is used to hearing positive feedback, then the negatives in life will hit harder. This can have some side effects like depression, low self-esteem and anxiety, since a kid may be used to succeeding and may think that parents, teachers and others expect that every time, no matter what.

5 Instead: Teach Them Ways To Cope

As mentioned, children will actually not always succeed, so early on, they need to know of ways to cope with that. When a test is failed, talk to them about how much studying went into it and what steps can be taken next time, in order to feel more prepared.

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When a game is lost, compliment them on any areas where they showed improvement and spend time practicing/playing with them. When a rough patch is hit in life, find a coping mechanism that works well and can be turned to often, such as journaling, meditating, praying or asking for help.

4 They May Not Deal With Failure Well

Besides feeling pressured to perform well, an overpraised child may also just not know how to fail. A common example of this is when a student graduates from high school and heads off to college; in high school, this student may have earned straight-A grades, all while being involved in extracurricular activities and without having to study that often.

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In college, though, the demands are higher, the classes are harder, and the professors are tougher, so a kid who never learned how to study will now realize that they took it for granted and that things are not so easy any longer.

3 Instead: Remind Them That Mistakes Happen

When this happens and a child feels like giving up because something is too hard, remind them that mistakes happen. Unfortunately, the developmental phase - the time when that hard work ethic needed to be instilled - has passed.

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But the good news is that a frightening situation like this can wake a kid up, light a fire underneath them and make them determined to re-learn a skill, pass a course and work for a success. This will be different, but it will be a good life lesson, since not everything will always be easy.

2 They May Get Used To Being Praised

Another problem that can come about from telling a child that they are smart and special is that they will get accustomed to this. Every time they do anything, they know that someone (a parent, a teacher, a babysitter, a family member, a neighbor, a fan) will tell them how great they are. And this will make them entitled. They will come to expect that, no matter what, and the first time a compliment does not come their way, they may not know how to act. They may freak out. They may think they are a failure. They may act out in a selfish way, almost begging for people to notice and praise them.

1 Instead: Encourage Their Interests In A Healthy Way

The solution here is to encourage their interests in a healthy way. Rather than saying they did a great job on their school work, find a certain subject or question that sticks out in a positive way, and directly say what was liked about that. Rather than telling them they did good in an after-school activity, ask them questions regarding what they like about this activity and how they think they could use the learned skills in other areas of life.

Realistic expectations need to be set, exploration needs to be supported, and blanket praises need to be avoided.

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