Today I read this article, The Trouble with Bright Girls. It is interesting to me. In relevant part:

At the 5th grade level, girls routinely outperform boys in every subject, including math and science. So there were no differences between these boys and girls in ability, nor in past history of success. The only difference was how bright boys and girls interpreted difficulty–what it meant to them when material seemed hard to learn. Bright girls were much quicker to doubt their ability, to lose confidence, and to become less effective learners as a result.

Researchers have uncovered the reason for this difference in how difficulty is interpreted, and it is simply this: more often than not, bright girls believe that their abilities are innate and unchangeable, while bright boys believe that they can develop ability through effort and practice.

How do girls and boys develop these different views? Most likely, it has to do with the kinds of feedback we get from parents and teachers as young children. Girls, who develop self-control earlier and are better able to follow instructions, are often praised for their “goodness.” When we do well in school, we are told that we are “so smart,” “so clever,” or “such a good student.” This kind of praise implies that traits like smartness, cleverness, and goodness are qualities you either have or you don’t.

Boys, on the other hand, are a handful. Just trying to get boys to sit still and pay attention is a real challenge for any parent or teacher. As a result, boys are given a lot more feedback that emphasizes effort (e.g., “If you would just pay attention you could learn this,” “If you would just try a little harder you could get it right.”) The net result: When learning something new is truly difficult, girls take it as sign that they aren’t “good” and “smart”, and boys take it as a sign to pay attention and try harder.


As the mother of one girl, soon to be two, information on how people talk to girls and how it affects how they learn is so interesting and important to me. I’m not sure I necessarily agree with this application (I was probably praised similarly growing up, but I did not unilaterally shy away from things that were too difficult) but there’s definitely some benefit to considering your words, and your praise, with kids, regardless of gender.

I love to see Elena do something that she really enjoys and is naturally good at, like playing soccer (or at least pretending to play soccer – we’ll see how she is when she gets into the big leagues of Little Kickers) or picking out an outfit to wear (she’s got a pretty decent eye for a three year old). But it’s so much more gratifying to me when she accomplishes something that she’s been struggling with (like drawing the letter B, which has given her some major issues). The proud little look she gets when she’s done something that she’s worked on so hard – that deserves extra praise.

It’s my hope that the potential reward of this extra praise will help her work through tough problems in the future and not just get frustrated and give up. Like the day that she’ll start putting on her shirt by herself. I can’t wait for that day!


6 thoughts on “SmrtGrls

  1. I was praised EXACTLY the same way. I was always told I was just naturally smart and I hardly had to even try. So guess what? I stopped trying. As soon as grades stopped meaning something big to me (scholarship), I quit trying. It was too hard. I didn’t want to try. I just couldn’t get it. That lead to me getting sub-par (in my eyes) grades in college (I hardly EVER went to class and got .1 away from cum laude. This is upsetting. Could I have tried a LITTLE?), and eventually just quitting when grad school got too hard. Sure, I was dealing with emotional and financial upheaval when I quit grad school, and I should have taken a semester off, I never went back because it was too hard. I’m not TOO upset about it anymore (It took a long time to get over.), because who cares if I have an MA in Graphic Design? No one. It was a waste of time and money. But, like you, if I’m LUCKY ENOUGH to have girls, I will have to try SO HARD to not do the traditional YOU ARE SO PRETTY in a baby voice all the time. I try not to with Elena. But. She IS so pretty.

    • Although I didn’t JUST do things that were easy for me, I am definitely guilty of preferring things that were easy for me. Not that that’s necessarily a bad thing, but maybe I would have been a good chemist or something if I’d worked at that a little more.

      Elena getting “you’re so pretty” compliments is probably the subject of a completely separate post, and I’m also not sure it’s something I want to take on, because I do appreciate the compliments and don’t want to appear to be all sour grapes about having an attractive child. A short comment on this is that I try to impress upon her that being AWESOME is the MOST important thing, but I’m not sure whether that’s getting through.

      Speaking of compliments and being pretty, I sent my mom that picture of you and Elena and she told me how pretty she thought you were.


        I read something about this “you’re so pretty” thing, and one mother’s way of dealing with those comments was to say “INSIDE and OUT” every time. I can totally see me doing that and being all annoying about it.

        Another thing that I think Frank’s family will solve for me is that my family doesn’t think girls should play sports like boys do. I mean, I get crap for running and lifting weights. So, no hockey or football. I don’t really want my kids to play those things anyway because I don’t understand them, but if I have a girl and she wants to, she should play. Frank’s family is big on sports for both genders, though, so they will have my back on that.

  2. Thanks Sandy for affiming what I did as a very young and very inexperiened mom…giving positive feedback to my very, very “SMRT” daughter. It is good to know that I did a good jod….just Wheezie. You are a wonderful mom….just like your daughters’ grandmother.

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