Foster a Love of Lifelong Learning

Tony Ngo – Chairman and Co-founder of Everest Education – shares his experience when raising his children, and highlights 2 phrases you may want to avoid saying to your children.

1. “You’re so smart!”

As a parent, one lesson I’ve learned is that it is dangerous to use the phrase “You’re so smart.”

We mean it as praise, but it often builds up expectations that our kids need to be perfect. Getting things correct is good, but true learning actually requires trial and error.  And when kids have the expectation that they need to be perfect, they unconsciously develop a fear of making mistakes.  But think of all the great thinkers, inventors, artists.  Einstein was great because he explored without thinking about mistakes.  He considered all his work to be play. “Play is the highest form of research.”  Elon Musk, father of the electric car industry, private space exploration, and even digging tunnels for hyperloops, fails at many things.  But he is the boldest entrepreneur and inventor alive. “Failure is an option here. If things are not failing, you are not innovating enough.  Great thinkers and doers push the boundaries of what is doable.  They don’t aim to be perfect at what they can already do.

So are we doomed to tell kids to fail?  No, but what can we do instead?

Praise process and effort, make it concrete.  If your daughter comes home and shows you a high score on the next test, ask about the strategies to prepare for that test, and praise her preparation techniques.  If your son paints a beautiful image, don’t say, “That’s a beautiful painting!”  Instead ask about why he chose the colors, the shapes, and the placement.  For an example of how I apply this to sports, check out me talking with my son Ian about his Strategy and Effort.  It’s not just did he score a goal, but the process of effort.

2. “Let me help”

As parents we want to help our kids succeed, and sometimes I would find myself wanting to “help” a little too much.  My kids would be building whatever it is and get stuck.  I would feel impatient, and I would jump in to finish it all.  But chatting with some other smarter parents (aka my wife), I learned to control my reactions.  If I jump in too early, or if I do too much, I would undermine our kids’ independence.  Instead of figuring out how to solve the problem, Ian and Estelle would look to us for all the answers.  Clearly we don’t want that!  So I’ve learned to help guide my kids to solve their problems without doing it for them.  For math problems, we don’t just jump to the answers, but we go back to the method to solve the problem.  With Singapore Math, we are able to go back to playing with concrete objects if our kids don’t understand the formulas.

The process is more important than the output.  Great teachers provide just enough support for each student that builds on what they have already mastered — this is called scaffolding.  Whether it’s in the classroom or at home, we want to challenge our children just outside what they can already do, and keep stretching those boundaries.

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