Guest Blog Post: The Misunderstanding of Intelligence: 5 Ways Kids Get the Wrong Message by Darlene Sweetland and Ron Stolberg, authors, Teaching Kids to Think

bookteachingkidstothinkauthorsGone are the days that parents wait until their child brings home their report card to find out how they are doing in school. Parents can check their child’s grades on-line at any time and email communication makes it much easier for parents to intervene on their child’s behalf. Pair this with the increased academic demands placed on kids and the constant message about how hard it is to get into a “good” college.

The result is a lot of uncertainty for the parents. They wonder if they are doing enough for their kids, if their kids will earn the grades and test scores to get into college, and if other people will recognize their child’s unique gifts. Most parents can’t help themselves and begin to compare their child to other children the same age. Very quickly kids compare themselves too. Parents will often hear, “Johnny is one of the smart kids. He already does his multiplication the fastest” or “Jane is really smart. She is already reading chapter books.” Kids get the message that if schoolwork is easy or if kids can do school work quickly they are really smart.

What the Experts Say Makes a “Successful” Student:
We asked teachers across the country to share the characteristics they have found to be the most predictive of a successful student. There is a very consistent theme of character traits:

• Resiliency or the ability to handle stress
• Internal motivation
• Perseverance and persistence
• Positive social skills, including communication skills
• Independent problem-solving ability or critical thinking
• Willingness to take responsibility

Notice that the teachers did not report IQ, GPA, or “honors student” as being a predictive characteristic. In fact, not one teacher cited a specific score, number, or objective measure. Every teacher emphasized character qualities and skills necessary to deal with life’s challenges. One teacher simply said, “Embrace failure and struggle as part of learning.” Who would you want as a business owner, employee, teacher, or president? Would you want someone who is able to solve problem, persevere even when things are tough, take responsibility, and communicate well or someone who can complete multiplication tables quickly?

Despite what the experts say, here are five ways children get the wrong message:
1. If schoolwork is easy it means that student is smart.
2. Students need to take Honors and Advanced Placement classes to be successful.
3. Every test grade counts and a poor test grade ruins a student’s chance at college.
4. Smart kids have high GPAs.
5. Kids need to squeeze in every chance for enrichment in order to be competitive with college applications.

Parent Tips:
1. Truly Reward Effort
The hard-work and effort a student puts toward schoolwork is much more important than the grade because it is those skills that are essential in college and as an adult. Therefore, praise the process of earning a grade, not the grade itself. For example, “You really earned that A because you worked hard, took your time to do your best, and learned the information too” or “Jane, I am really proud of you for starting that project early.”

2. Praise “Positive” Grades
When discussing grades, reward and praise “positive” grades, instead of “good” grades. If a child is a strong math student, an A is a positive grade. ON the other hand, if math is a real challenge, a B might be a positive grade if he or she put forth a lot of effort. If a student begins the year with a C on projects or tests because the teacher is very detail oriented and docks points for each little mistake, then earning a B is a positive grade.

3. Don’t Generalize
It is very important for students to understand they can be really good at a subject even if they are not great at one part of it. There are many different skills required for each academic area. Did you know Jane Austen and Ernest Hemmingway were poor spellers? Agatha Christie was dyslexic and a tremendously successful writer. And Thomas Edison, an inventor who was called a “wizard”, was poor at math.

Putting it all Together- Not only do teachers and students find character qualities important, but the research also supports this conclusion. A study completed with a group of academically focused middle school students found that self-disciplined adolescents outperformed their more impulsive peers on every academic performance measure. The measures included report card grades, standardized achievement test scores, admission to a competitive high school, and attendance. If the goal is to improve grades, test scores, and acceptance into a choice school, teaching children how to be responsible and confident in their ability to solve problems is a very strong predictor. That makes sense. Children who feel confident in their ability to solve a problem and work toward a goal will feel more comfortable finding answers rather than expecting answers to be provided to them. They will also be more diligent in completing quality work. On the other hand, children who are more impulsive and need the immediate solution to a problem are more likely to wait for others to tell them what to do, get stuck when a task is difficult, and complete unsatisfactory work. This does not bode well for a generation of students that is becoming so accustomed to instant gratification.


bookteachingkidstothinkClinical psychologists and international speakers, Dr. Darlene Sweetland and Dr. Ron Stolberg have decades of experience working with children and their families as well as consulting with teachers, counselors and administrators. They are married and facing similar challenges of raising children and teens of this generation.  In Teaching Kids to Think, Dr. Sweetland and Dr. Stolberg offer insight into the social, emotional, and neurological challenges unique to this generation. They identify the five parent traps that cause adults to unknowingly increase their children’s need for instant gratification, and offer practical tips and easy-to-implement solutions to address topics relevant to children of all ages.  Visit


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