1 Thing To Never Say To Your Kids

Your preschooler proudly shows you his latest crayon drawing.

Your daughter eagerly asks you to rate her volleyball serve on a scale of 1 to 10.

Your son calls you to the computer to show you his latest stop-animation short film.

Every time your child presents their work for feedback, you face an essential crossroad: you must choose whether to praise the ABILITY or the EFFORT that produced the work.

It’s easy to praise ability. There’s something about it that feels fittingly grand, aspirational.

But when you choose to praise your child’s ability–telling your daughter what a good volleyball player she is, or calling your son a great artist–you are planting a dangerous seed… what psychologist Carol Dweck calls the “fixed mindset.”

Subtly yet powerfully, you are reinforcing the idea that the world of experience is divided into two categories: things your child is naturally good at, and things they aren’t.

In time, your child will unconsciously gravitate to activities that come easily to them, and avoid those that do not.

The world of work and experience becomes less about exploration and challenge, and more about finding a reliable set of “things I’m good at” they can cling to.

In a world that rewards pioneers, creators, entrepreneurs, risk takers–those willing to first fail before they succeed–this behavior is disastrous, and leaves them fundamentally ill-equipped.

In contrast, when you praise your child’s EFFORT, you praise something directly within your child’s control.

“Wow, your serve has really improved… all your hard work is starting to pay off!”

“I love this drawing… I can tell you’ve been practicing: keep up the good work!”

By doing this, you give your child one of the greatest gifts a parent can give: a healthy relationship to risk and the unknown.

You have separated love from performance, and thereby unlocked the world for them:

“I love you, and that love has nothing to do with your performance and everything to do with who you ARE. Nothing you do or don’t do can ever change that. So go nuts! Try it all! Fail, succeed, suck at first… none of it matters. None of it is a threat to your place in the world, or in my heart. Fail freely, fail fearlessly.”

“Good boy!” is dangerous.

“Good work!” is empowering.

The words we choose… they matter.

ESPECIALLY the words we speak to these bright-eyed children… to these little creators-to-be in our charge.

So speak wisely.

Their future power is in your hands.


Bryan Ward is the founder of Third Way Man and author of the LIT Black Paper


  1. Great!
    I have always been criticized for doing just this very thing.

  2. A bit of advice given to me long ago — Anything worth doing well is worth doing poorly in the beginning.

  3. Garret Slaugenhoup says

    I agree. Nice work on this concept.

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