I went to book group tonight with my sister in law, as per our monthly tradition (minus last month, when she was recovering from childbirth and I was not feeling like going anywhere alone, plus my mom was in town helping out). Book group usually goes about 4 hours (or more, though Nathan gets impatient with me if I'm not home by midnight, and I regret it at work the next day too) and we talk about the book for maybe 15 minutes of that time. The rest of the time we just talk about lots of things, often about raising children (or chickens) but most any subject is fair game.
Tonight was no exception. There was one bit of conversation in particular that resonated especially. We discussed raising smart children, and the impact that society and the family has on that child by how they react to them being smart. Specifically: if a child figures out something new and impressive for their age, do we praise them for being so smart? Do we draw attention to that? Or do we praise them for working hard on their own to figure it out? It's a subtle difference, but an important one. Most of the mothers in our book group have dealt with this before, and the general consensus seemed to be that praising them solely for being smart made it more likely that they would link being able to figure out things on their own with being smart, which often translated to thinking they were stupid when they encountered something that was hard or that they needed help with. In contrast, praising them for working hard helps them understand the value of perseverance, hard work, etc. (in theory, anyway; it's much harder to put that method into practice from what I've seen).
I think parents play an important role in shaping their child's attitude in this regard, but society as a whole will have a significant influence too, and we can't easily control that. How many times have you praised a child for being smart? I do it all the time - even having recognized that I do! And society as a whole tends to do so as well, placing more emphasis and value on being inherently "smart" than on developing crucial skills like perseverance, hard work, and maintaining a positive attitude. As my sister in law so aptly put it, "I would rather have children who know how to work hard than children who are smart. People who can work hard will succeed in life regardless, but people who are smart and won't work hard will not. If you are both, then great, but working hard is more important." (That's the general gist of it anyway.)
It's a careful balance. As a parent, you want to be able to recognize your children for their talents, and don't want to keep people from complimenting them, but you also want them to succeed - and if they give up the moment things get hard, they won't.
I'm not a parent yet. I don't have any real answers. But I'm going to try to be a better influence in the lives of all the children I interact with nonetheless. Will I still praise them for being smart? Probably. I'm not perfect, and it's a tough habit to break. But I hope that I can also help them recognize the role that effort and hard work plays in their success as well, and recognize that their strengths will not be the same as the strengths their siblings or friends have.
That's my take on it anyway.