Friday, October 17, 2008

Attitude vs. Aptitude

Fair or not, the world is divided up into two kinds of children. The kind that sail through school and get A's with very little effort, and those that for a variety of reasons, struggle the entire way. As parents we tend to assume that if our children are among those that struggle, they will have to do so throughout their lives, while the gifted and talented will continue their effortless glide, as life bestows the gifts they have earned by virtue of being born lucky. But is it really that simple? Probably not, and this article explains why.

When the quick learning ability of a child is attributed by the parents to how smart this child is, or how high their IQ, this child may be at a higher risk for failure later on. As school become more difficult and requires more effort (usually around middle school) children encounter more and more problems that they cannot immediately and easily solve. In the face of these tougher challenges, children who have frequently been congratulated on their smarts often conclude that they must not be as smart as they've been lead to believe. Conversely, children that have had to struggle from their earliest days in school have learned that redoubling their efforts will typically result in finding a solution to a difficult problem. Why does this difference in attitude matter? Well, it turns out that these so-called "smart" children often feel a sense of helplessness in the face of their failed intelligence, and have a greater tendency to quit. It is easier for these children to tell themselves that they failed because they just didn't try than to admit they failed because they were not smart enough to solve the problem.

Does this mean all children that breeze through their early years at school will fall flat on their faces at the first challenge? Of course not. On the other hand, it's certainly cause for celebration for parents whose children struggle to learn those spelling words or have a hard time mastering their times tables. It's also a cautionary tale to those of us who find ourselves congratulating a child who has done well in school with the words, "What a smart kid!"


Anonymous said...

Excellent article. Although some children who don't do well early on never seem to recover, others reach a point in their educational life and never look back. Somehow things just click into place and it happens. The thin little duckling turns into a beautiful swan. Have faith.

Steve said...

I agree that this is an excellent article. Great find! I was inspired to look into the Brainology software the author has written and it looks like a good tool for instilling good study habits in children. I'm now going to see if there is a way to institute a Brainology program at our son's middle school, if there isn't one already.