For example... Praise. Specifically, telling a child he's smart. I know--how could that be bad, right? It will be easier for me to explain by going backward, starting with what you should do. If you praise a child's effort instead of his intelligence, you teach him that hard work is important. You teach him that it doesn't matter if he fails at something, because he can always try harder. And you teach him that intelligence isn't just what you're born with--it's something you can develop as you go, because the harder your brain works, the more connections it forms. If, on the other hand, you tell a child that he is smart, he will feel like he doesn't need to work hard. He will be afraid to try things that he's not sure he'll be good at, because if he fails at something, it must mean that he isn't really smart.
I can tell you from personal experience that this is true. I've always been told that I'm smart, and in fact I was in gifted and talented programs from second grade through tenth. I never studied in high school, except the night before a test, and I did homework in between classes on the day it was due. I still got great grades, graduated with honors, and was in the top ten percent of my class. I never felt like I had to work hard at school, except in math--where I firmly believed that I was just not smart, because of how difficult it was for me. I barely passed my algebra classes, and I even had a tutor for one semester (of which fact I was so ashamed that I never told anyone, and would have been mortified if they'd found out).
I saw this same trend in a lot of my classmates, who were smart but didn't work at anything because they didn't have to. I'm willing to bet that when they got to college, they had the same experience that I did, and began wishing they'd learned how to study long before. But I also wonder, if we'd been praised on how we worked hard when we were kids, instead of for being smart, if we would have taken a different approach to things.
I can promise you'll be surprised at some of the other issues covered in the book as well:
- why arguing with your teenagers is actually a good thing
- how educational TV can be a bad influence on children
- why it's important to talk to your children about race
- how you might unknowingly be encouraging your child to lie
- why recess is important--and it's not just for exercise and developing social skills
- how many baby DVDs really don't help babies learn at all (and they'll tell you what does)