I would love advice on what to say when your kid is in earshot and another adult says something like “Ze’s so smart!” or “Ze’s shy!” Because I often hear both, especially the latter, and I do NOT want to reinforce that in my four-year-old. I am both gifted and socially awkward and have no idea what to say in these situations…
This question is great. According to research by Carol Dweck and others we do not want to help foster a fixed mindset through praise of intelligence (or other fixed traits). Praise for effort is good, praise for smarts can lead to the bad kind of perfectionism, fear of taking risks, and so on. Similarly, saying that a kid is shy may reinforce that behavior.
With the “smart” I always focus on, “Oh, yes, DC LOVES to read!” or “The Magic Treehouse books are really exciting!” or “Ze’s been working really hard on hir handwriting.” I try to enforce that these things are fun and that practice is important, and get away from the “smart” with a gentle correction that way.
In preschool we also talked to the director about teachers not saying that kind of thing and praising effort (which she already knew about– she teaches childhood development at the community college, but some of the newer teachers needed reminders), and that helped a little.
When DC was much younger I admit to rounding up hir age when asked, not so it was incorrect, but giving the most generous rounding I could do (almost 3, rather than 2 years 6 and a half months)… I’m not sure how I feel about having done that.
Over the past year we’ve been avoiding situations with DC’s same-age peers… ze fits in much better with kids about a year older. This is easier to do because ze started K early (when people ask, we say, “Ze just missed the cutoff, and all hir friends were going to kindergarten,” which is true, for some definitions of “just.”) People just assume ze is small for hir age. That has helped a LOT. Ze doesn’t seem quite so abnormal around other kids when the other kids are at similar levels, even if they’re not really the same age.
In terms of shyness: We usually get that DC is mellow, which I don’t mind so much, and I always say ze takes after hir daddy. Ze definitely likes to check out the situation before jumping into it, and the teachers at after-school recently told me ze is always shy at first but then warms up. So maybe, “It generally takes hir a little while to warm up to people, but ze will be fine.”
Dear grumpy readers: What would you do in these situations? What advice would you give?