When you’re a new homeschooling mom, you want to encourage your kids. You probably also want to have smart kids. If you’re like me, and you got your education in a traditional classroom, you were praised for good grades and perfect scores. Even though homeschooling is wildly different than a traditional classroom, it’s tempting to jump right in as a new homeschool mom and tell your precious little ones how smart they are.
But if you think you’re encouraging your kids when you tell them they’re smart, I’d like you to reconsider.
When I was a kid, teachers told me, “Boy, you’re smart!” I wore the “smart” label like a badge of honor – each “A” was a new medal around my neck, and every 100% on a test was a trophy. Being smart became a part of who I was.
When I got out of academia and started my first job, though, I realized that all my grades and tests didn’t mean all that much. Being smart was more of a roadblock than a springboard.
My first job outside of teaching was as a hostess in a hotel restaurant. I needed to earn some money over the summer because my private school teacher salary was meager at best. I’d never worked a service job in my life, and I was terrible at it. I had a hard time counting my cash drawer, managing unhappy customers, and clearing off dirty tables. Even so, I couldn’t understand why my restaurant co-workers didn’t fall all over themselves to compliment me, listen to my bright ideas, or follow my lead.
I decided that maybe I wasn’t so smart after all: my private Christian high school had been a small pond, my college a slightly bigger pond, and the post-college world an incredibly big and scary ocean. When I became a new homeschool mom, I committed to myself that my children wouldn’t suffer from the same problem.
I started homeschooling my children with the same paradigm I had as a child: smart is good, smartest is better. My children would have the education I always wanted but never had. They’d be perfectly academic kids who got all the right answers.
Then I started a business, and it all went downhill from there.
Starting your own business as a homeschooling mom is rife with failure. When I started, I didn’t know anything about how businesses worked, how to use Pinterest, how to create a blog, or why no one ever read my posts. It was a painful learning curve.
What I learned is that in the real world outside of a traditional classroom, trusting God and stepping out with hard work, determination, and the willingness to risk failure is much better than being smart.
Saying things like “You’re so smart” can be detrimental even though it seems like the right thing to say. It teaches your kids that their worth is tied to an innate quality (like raw intelligence, beauty, or athleticism) and not their character. God rewards people for their character, not their innate qualities.
You can see this in Scripture. God blessed the people who trusted Him and put that trust into action. The eleventh chapter of Hebrews is full of people who had faith that drove them to do difficult things. Noah built the ark; Abraham journeyed away from his home to an unknown destination; Moses chose to be mistreated along with the people of God rather than have all the treasures of Egypt.
One of my favorite verses is Romans 5:3-5 in which Paul talks about the hope we receive when we go through suffering with perseverance. That perseverance produces character which, in turn, produces hope.
Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character, and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us. Romans 5:3-5 (NIV)
I’m not saying that school is full of suffering, but when Algebra isn’t going so smoothly or writer’s block is setting in, it feels a tiny bit like suffering. What do you say when your kids need encouragement in the moments that are frustrating or painful? (For that matter, what do you say when you’re having a hard time with this homeschooling thing yourself?) What do you say when your kids achieve something great?
You praise their endurance, their perseverance, and the character they are growing because of it. While it might be tempting to tell them they’re smart and good at math, it’s better if you tell them you are proud of the hard work they’ve put in. Tell them that every time they trust God and persevere through the difficult things, they are learning what it is to have real hope. God comes through for those who trust Him and act.
When you start homeschooling, begin with a better end in mind than smart kids. Point your kids toward a character-filled life.