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Many psychologists argue that praising children for “being smart” will encourage them to do well in school and learn more. Traditional wisdom and advice is that telling kids they are intelligent will motivate them to learn and become smarter.

And then there is another group of psychologists who have the complete opposite view.

The other group believe that praising the child “for being smart” is harmful. The other group of psychologists argues that it is far better to praise the child for for effort, determination, and persistence to get better outcomes.

Here is a hypothetical example.:

Imagine a child has read one of two books. The teacher isn’t aware that she has read one of the two books. The child likes praise! The child likes being told she is smart. The child likes to get good grades.” In fact, she gets paid money for each A on her report card. Which book would result in her getting praise, acknowledged, and a good grade? The answer would be: pick the book you already know. It’s a guarantee A. you’ll be told you’re so smart when you ace it. You don’t know what the mystery the other book holds. It could be difficult to understand or boring.


The moral of the story is…

making a mistake might cause you to look, dumb. Go with an easier task and you’ll look smart. You won’t be told you’ve messed up. You’ll more likely to be told, “good job, way to go, you did it.”

That was a big example. It was only make-believe.

But is there truth to it? WE need evidence and proof. 

Health care wants evidenced-based practice. They want to know that interventions are grounded in research that proves outcomes.

Here are examples from research and expert options:

  • Mary Budd Rowe, Ph.D., (University of Florida) provided research that demonstrated children avoid difficult takes in order to not risk failure when praise was attached.


  • Carl Dweck, Ph.D., conducted research (Columbia University) among 400 5th-graders in the New York City School System. One group of kids had been praised for their “intelligence,” and they chose the easy test. A second group was praised for “effort” and 90 percent of those students chose the harder test.
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  • Alfie Kohn (University of Chicago) has pointed out similar research in his 1999 book, Punished by Rewards.
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  • Author/ Journalist Po Bronson argues againsting telling kids they’re smart at this link:       http://nymag.com/news/features/27840/

Danny Pettry: My disadvantage (not being the smartest) has turned out to be a blessing in disguise. It gave me a different set of skills in life. Skills like: determination and persistence, deliberate practice, continuing to develop my potential. dedication. perseverance.

I wasn’t in the smart group. I knew from an early-age that I was in the “dumb person” group. I got it. Kids learn at an early age.

Here are a few of my experiences:

  • I sat with a smaller group of kids in first grade for reading class.
  •  I had to go to speech therapy weekly from first grade until 5th grade.
  • I missed science class and several recesses in third grade in order to take an extra reading class.
  • I didn’t always make the honor roll in elementary, middle school, and high school. I was always on the good citizenship list for having positive character traits, which I’d even argue can be a greater predictor of success than just
  • In 11th grade I had to stay after school to get help with Algebra II and Spanish II just to pass those classes.
  • My ACT scores were so low that I wasn’t fully admitted to college.
  •  I had to take English 098, 099, and 100 as well as Math 098, 099, and 100 before I could take the English and Math classes that counted towards my undergraduate degree and I still completed my four-year degree in four years by taking summer classes every summer.


How did this help me?  I knew I wasn’t the smartest so I had to put in more effort to keep up with the “smarts” who didn’t have to study. When it comes to a difficult project, I have a lot of experience with frustrations and staying with it until the project is completed.


A smart person is almost at a disadvantage when it comes to the real world.  School subjects have always come easy to them. They didn’t have to struggle to study just to get an average grade. What does the smart person know about putting in extra time and effort? What are they going to do when there is a problem in the real world that doesn’t have a solution or answer yet. The answer hasn’t been created or discovered. It requires some hard work. I briefly discuss how being too smart could be a disadvantage in my 2009 book, Discover Wisdom: A Recreational Therapists System on Becoming Great. I argue that a person who thinks they are too smart is not open to learning and growing because they already know-it-all.



The truth is: you can indeed improve your intelligence!

Here are some questions to consider:

  1. Do you consider yourself to be a person who puts in the hard work and effort?
  2. Do you consider yourself to be a person who goes the extra mile?
  3. Do you consider yourself to be an open-minded person who wants to learn more?


If you answered yes to any of those questions then you might want to consider taking a self-study CEU course from Danny Pettry’s Rec Therapy CEUs.

Pick a course topic that you’re interested in learning about. Grow your wisdom. You’re guaranteed to pass or you can re-take the quiz again for free as many times as you want or need.

Go here: http://www.dannypettry.com/courses.htm

Newer site:  http://www.RecTherapyCEUs.com <– we’ll be moving all courses to this link in the future.