010: Becoming Brilliant – Interview with Prof. Roberta Golinkoff

In just a few years, today’s children and teens will forge careers that look nothing like those that were available to their parents or grandparents. While the U.S. economy becomes ever more information-driven, our system of education seems stuck on the idea that “content is king,” neglecting other skills that 21st century citizens sorely need.

Backed by the latest scientific evidence and illustrated with examples of what’s being done right in schools today, Becoming Brilliant (Affiliate link) introduces the “6Cs” collaboration, communication, content, critical thinking, creative innovation, and confidence along with ways parents can nurture their children’s development in each area.

Join me for an engaging chat with award-winning Professor Roberta Golinkoff about the key takeaways from the new book.


Read Full Transcript


Jen: 00:33

Hello and welcome to the Your Parenting Mojo podcast. Today’s episode is called Becoming Brilliant. I’m so excited to welcome my guest today, Roberta Golinkoff. I reached out to her because I’d read her book, Einstein never used flashcards, which advocated for a young children’s learning through play rather than through expensive toys or high pressure classes. So when her new book Becoming Brilliant came out, I knew I had to read it and I absolutely dance a jig the day that she agreed to join us here on Your Parenting Mojo. I’m so excited. Thank you so much for joining us. Roberto.

Dr. Golinkoff: 01:02

You know, it’s funny, but I danced a jig too! I’m so happy to able to talk about these issues and it’s such a pleasure to meet you, Jen. I hope I get to see you next time I’m out in California.

Jen: 01:12

That would be great. All right, well let me formally introduce you. Dr. Golinkoff is the Unidel H. Rodney Sharp Professor of Education, Psychology, and Linguistics at the University of Delaware. She has won a fellowship and many prizes for her work and she served as an Associate Editor of Child Development, which really is the premier journal in her field and she’s also authored over 150 journal Publications, book chapters, and 14 books and monographs. Her official bio says that she has appeared on numerous radio and television shows and in print media and never turns down an opportunity to spread the findings of psychological science to the lay public so I can vouch for her on that front at least. Thank you again for joining us.

Dr. Golinkoff: 01:49

When do I sleep?

Jen: 01:51

I don’t know. I wondered that too.

Dr. Golinkoff: 01:54

Some days I wonder that.

Jen: 01:56

Yeah, I can imagine. So I wonder if you could start a bit by telling us about the premise of Becoming Brilliant. Why did you write this book?

Dr. Golinkoff: 02:04

So we know that many parents are struggling and trying to figure out what their children should be receiving by way of schooling and by way of parenting in the home. And the reason they’re struggling is because we are in a new era. You know, there has never been a time like this technology is advancing so rapidly. It’s really changing all our lives. Many of the parents who you speak to know that places like National Economic Forum have said that 47 percent of our jobs are going to go the way of computers and robots. The statistics of very clear that many, many jobs will be vanishing. So how do we protect our children for the future? So when we started to think about this, we knew it was going to be about education, but we didn’t just want it to be about reimagining education in the classroom because we recognize that kids spend only 20 percent of their time in school.

Jen: 03:05

It seems like way more than that.

Dr. Golinkoff: 03:08

But it’s not if you actually do the numbers on it, and that means that the kinds of activities that children engage in outside of school and at home and be crucially important for their education. Many people are not thrilled with the kind of education that their children have. And we also wanted to broaden what we think of as education because if your kid is just smart but a junky person, what good did you do? Right? You want to create kids who will be happy in their personal lives and who will take the perspective of others. Otherwise, you know, how can you have partners? How can you work in the workforce if you can’t get along with people? So our book actually has a mission statement and we created this mission statement by modifying a mission statement from Ontario, our neighbors to the north. I love Canada.

Dr. Golinkoff: 04:02

I want to be a poster child because they get education. They know how important playful learning is and they minimize the drill-and-kill. So our mission statement is society thrives when we craft environments both in and out of school that support happy, healthy thinking, caring and social children who become collaborative, creative, competent, and responsible citizens tomorrow.

Jen: 04:35

That’s quite a mission.

Dr. Golinkoff: 04:37

It is a big mission. It is true. And in order to fulfill this mission, it’s just a good thing that Kathy and I are steeped in the psychological literature because between us, we read and incorporated thousands of studies into this book and while that may sound incredibly dense and boring…

Jen: 05:00

…it’s actually not because I read it!

Dr. Golinkoff: 05:07

…we really try to write in a way that invites people into our thinking, into the laboratory, into the school, into the home so that they can see the principles that we extract from the research visible before your eyes?

Jen: 05:23

Yeah. I did notice that it’s really full of stories that really helped to get your points across. So let’s dive into the book a little bit. So the setup of the book is that you described the six Cs, which are Collaboration, Communication, Content, Critical thinking, Creative innovation and Confidence. And each of those competencies has four levels of mastery from basic up to pretty high; the kind of level that some people never achieve in their lifetime. And so you actually have it set out on a table format. And as I looked at the table, the building of the levels made immediate sense to me, but it wasn’t until I got to the end of the book that I realized how you can kind of move across the table as well and the competencies themselves build on each other and reinforce each other. Can you talk a little bit about that?

Dr. Golinkoff: 06:08

Oh yeah. That was a brilliant presentation of how this is presented. So the idea is that skills that we talk about emerge in development and we tried to put them in sequence by development. And in addition there is development along each of the six Cs. So probably the way to make it clearer would be to give an example, let’s say from collaboration, the first one. Think about the fact that humans are born ultra social. We we will smile to faces and lock onto eyes at birth and this is often a startling recognition that people have. When the new born baby comes out and looks you in the eyes, it’s like, oh my God, there’s a little person in there. So collaboration is basically two heads are better than one. Easy to remember, and in order to collaborate and work with others, so this is our first C. We have to learn to control our emotions and take others’ points of view. We also sprinkle the book with business examples because Peter Drucker, who was the father of modern management, has written about how companies today have to live in a Lego world where the bricks can be combined and recombined as collaborations occur inside and outside the company.

Jen: 07:47

Yeah. Yours is the first book I’ve ever seen that does that, that kind of looks ahead to what, what comes out the other end. I’m particularly from a business viewpoint and says these are the kinds of skills that you’re going to need. You know, you’re not going to need to be able to recite the capitals of the 50 states in your career. You’re going to need a whole different set of skills that is not being addressed by schools today.

Dr. Golinkoff: 08:07

You know, you, you really get it. I feel like you should be giving this interview! You so get it! So it is absolutely true that what we did in the 20th century, in the 19th century, and unfortunately even in some of this century, is engaged children in a lot of memorization. Now, look, I’m not going to say memorization isn’t important. I’m giving a test tomorrow in one of my classes and not going to have open book, they’re going to have to memorize stuff. Okay? But unless you can make it your own, unless you can engage in deep learning so you can generate examples and you can talk about why this concept is important. You’ve only learned in a very shallow way. And with being able to get at our fingertips now on the computer, I mean, you could go ask any second grader, what’s the tallest building in the world? And they can tell you if they have computer access in about 13 seconds, right?

Dr. Golinkoff: 09:09

So there are many things available to children today that weren’t available in the past when we did rely so heavily on memorization. Now what we need to develop in our children is the ability to adapt and be flexible and be able to change. Because seven out of 10 jobs have not been invented yet for the future and our children.

Jen: 09:32

Isn’t that a weird thought?

Dr. Golinkoff: 09:32

It is! It’s true. We already see all around us how we’re being replaced by…. Oh, oh, he’s a great example. So I spoke at the evolution institute and United Way in Tampa, Florida. It was held in the building owned by Valpack. We get these coupons, I don’t know, monthly is it?

Jen: 10:00

Yeah, we get them in the mail too.

Dr. Golinkoff: 10:00

And they produce these things. They had a community room where we had the meeting, so they had these giant windows so you could look down into the factory. I was literally blown away. I felt like, oh my God, I have seen the future. This was maybe a 200,000 square foot factory loaded with equipment. There were moving vehicles with no human in them. They were all conducted by robots and this giant working factory had about four humans in it. I was blown away, so this is the future for which we are preparing our children. That means we have to give them the skills, help them develop the skills, that robots and computers aren’t so good at. So collaboration is certainly one of them. Communication is essential. It’s the grease that keeps international commerce alive because now we’re collaborating with people all over the world. One of my fondest expressions is the world is the size of a walnut. You know, 25 years ago even I couldn’t have had a dinner at my house with somebody on my left from Bangladesh, somebody on my right from Ireland, somebody in front of me from India.

Dr. Golinkoff: 11:27

I mean it just goes on and on, right? So we have to figure out how to communicate with people from cultures all over the world. We have to learn to speak, we have to learn to write. And all this entails, again, taking the perspective of the other. You have to have content, no question about it. You ain’t going to get away without content, okay. And there are different ways to learn content. Then we would like to move away from a lot of the drill and kill that we’re seeing in school because we want kids to be able to gain, retain and use content in new ways. That’s what they’re going to be asked to do in life to apply what they know to problems and again, we don’t want them replaced by those computers. Critical thinking: we can think of it as question everything.

Dr. Golinkoff: 12:20

You have to have some content to be able to engage in critical thinking and you have to be able to synthesize and select the information you need from this deluge to solve the problem at hand. So I don’t know about you, but I’m sitting in my office looking at my desk loaded with journals, papers and books and I like to tell people this is not my fault. This is because we see daily encounter the equivalent: are you ready for this of 174 newspapers? One hundred and 74 newspapers…

Jen: 12:57

Worth of content…

Dr. Golinkoff: 12:58

Per day is the amount of information by one estimate that we encounter. So how could I possibly keep up and keep my place neat?

Jen: 13:07

Yeah. It’s not my fault! I’ll tell my husband that. So let’s talk a little bit about how that content C applies to two very young children. We’re not quite there yet with our toddler. She’s just a little over two. But I’ve certainly met children who are slightly older who sort of latch onto a topic and learn all of these kinds of esoteric facts about it. And I know that they tend to kind of just memorize these little nuggets of information and I’m wondering is there any way that we can, that we can know that we would want to kind of scaffold that knowledge into a more cohesive whole or if it’s just part of being a toddler that you memorize 300 facts about dinosaurs and then you move onto fish and then you move onto something else.

Dr. Golinkoff: 13:54

So it’s a wonderful thing that our kids are so curious and it’s an unfortunate thing that school tends to stamp it out of them unless it’s a certain kind of school that really encourages curiosity and questioning. So, you know, my favorite place when my kids were little was the public library. It’s such a gift to go with your kids and let them pick out the books. And then if you know they’re interested in spiders, you know, you take out books on spiders, right? So why not feed into the things that your kids are interested in? It doesn’t mean they have to become entomologists, ultimately, and study spiders for living. But if they’re fascinated about something in the world, let’s build on it. Why not? Right? And this is also where media can come in. In today’s even though there are many junky educational apps out there, and even though we don’t want our kids on television 24 slash seven, you know, you may well be able to find cool videos about spiders. I opened up one of my talks once with a little piece from the New York Times on jumping spiders who can jump like five times their body, you know, and it’s just fascinating once you start to dig in and I wouldn’t worry so much about what your kid is getting out of it as long as they continue to ask questions and they want to know and your feed into this by providing them with opportunity to learn more. Why not?

Jen: 15:29

That’s an interesting twist on it. So you’re saying that a measure of success is not how much they know or how well it goes together, but how well they continue to ask questions.

Dr. Golinkoff: 15:38

Yeah. And you know, I’m not telling much worried about assaying what my kids know about dinosaurs per se. I just want to feed into their curiosity. And the more we do that, the more they learn about the world and they learn how to learn. So in content is also included, learning to learn. So if we help children know how to find the information they’re interested in, you know, that starts by going to the library, maybe going online. We’re already helping them for the future because they need to know how to find information and teachable moments are everywhere. So we tell parents to take their children to really exotic places like the supermarket. I mean, you know what’s more typical for a family, you go to the supermarket, you go to the pharmacy, you go to the cleaner’s right? And I’ve always loved in the cleaners the button that you press that makes the clothes come down…

Jen: 16:47

Yeah, I bet that will be every toddler’s field day…

Dr. Golinkoff: 16:52

So this is how do we help our kids learn about the world. We ask them questions and they ask us questions and it’s not like giving a test. It’s like open ended questions where you talk about things. So for example, say you see an eggplant for the first time in the supermarket, you can tap into all the Cs. You can say, this is one of the only purple vegetables. You know, why don’t you feel it? It’s so smooth. It’s amazing how it feels on the outside, should we buy, should we take it home and cook and make something with it. You know, you get, you get all excited about an eggplant, right, and this is what it’s like if you’re excited about taking your child out in the world, you can just share these little tidbits with them and then if you actually take it home and make something with them, they’re not only learning content about the category of vegetables, but they’re learning to collaborate with you. They’re learning about communication because they’re asking you questions and having a conversation with you and all these things come together in creating children who are curious and who want to know more and he takes the perspective of others. It’s like no big secret here.

Jen: 18:11

Yeah, in a way that kind of is the secret I in my mind because when my toddler started getting a little bit older, I started to set up all these learning activities for her and you know, what am I, what am I missing out on by not doing a learning activity today? And it’s through reading books like yours that I realize that going to the grocery store is a learning activity. When you’re looking at your collaboration C you’re talking about things like stacking firewood together and I’m packing groceries together because those kinds of activities build collaboration, you know, can you pass me the grapes or whatever and where do these go? Could you put those away for me please? And so I really appreciate just the understanding that I can bring my toddler along just by going through my daily life that I don’t have to set up learning activities for her unless I want to or unless she wants to or there is something outside of that. But I don’t have to.

Dr. Golinkoff: 19:08

I’m so happy you’re saying this, Jen, because sometimes I think that I’ve been steeped in this stuff for so long that I, that I need to hear you. You feel the pressure to set up learning activities for a child who is just two. And I think it’s a shame and that’s why we wrote Einstein Never Used Flash Cards…

Jen: 19:32

I love that book.

Dr. Golinkoff: 19:34

Thank you so much. Because we wanted to tell parents also at that time that they didn’t have to fall prey to the marketolace telling them that they have to buy at the time it was only fancy electronic toys now is do I need to get my kid a tablet. So the ante keeps being upped and the marketplace unfortunately rules because many people like yourself and myself and other areas are influenced by what the marketplace tells me I need and if we can take a step back and say, you know, we don’t necessarily need to buy this fancy stuff and she doesn’t need to have a workbook. If she asks how to write her name, which you will organically. If we put letters on the refrigerator and she sees us writing and we say, look at the letters in your name, I’m putting them together. You there, you don’t have to do drill-and-kill when your kid is little. This brings me to preschool tutoring. I hope you haven’t been doing that.

Jen: 20:33

We have not considered that now. Yay!

Dr. Golinkoff: 20:36

There are actually companies making a ton of money engaging in preschool tutoring.

Jen: 20:42

And what do they tutoring for? What’s the purpose of the tutoring?

Dr. Golinkoff: 20:45

Oh, math, and reading and you know, very drill-and-kill kind of stuff; the pencils are bitter than the kids and no child needs preschool tutoring. If you’re taking your child to exciting places, supermarket, zoo, et cetera, and if you’re having conversations with your trial back and forth. Think Strive for Five.

Jen: 21:08

What is that?

Dr. Golinkoff: 21:09

I’ll never forget it because it rhymes. Strive for fFve was made up by my friend David Dickinson with whom we collaborate at Vanderbilt and it’s the idea that a, I say something, then you say something, then I say something. Then you say, so we have five back and forth. We know we’re having a real conversation when we have five back and forths. Many conversations between parents and children are quite brief because you know, we try to offer our children choices. So we say, do you want to wear the red pants or the blue pants? Right? But if we ask more open ended questions, like, what do you think? Is today a pants day or do you think it’s warm enough to wear shorts or you know, like you try to get more going, then you can get more back and forth as opposed to yes/no types of questions.

Jen: 21:57

Yeah. I appreciate what you’re saying. I wonder. I’m just imagining getting my toddler readying out the door in the morning. It sounds like that could be a slower way of getting dressed.

Dr. Golinkoff: 22:08

You know, a lot of parents of toddlers do this the night before.

Jen: 22:12

Yeah, I’ve heard that.

Dr. Golinkoff: 22:15

Because we all know how difficult it is to get toddlers out because they have their own agenda and feel the sense of urgency that we feel so many people… I don’t think I did this actually. I can’t remember what it was like I’m sure my little boy couldn’t have cared less what he wore. If anything I had these conversations with my daughter. But if you set it up the night before, if you have trouble getting a kid out, do yourself, a big favor.

Jen: 22:46

So I’m talking about the conversational turns. Reminds me of the 30 Million Word Gap. That has seen a lot of press, the idea that children from high income families have been exposed to about 30 million more words than children from low income families and I saw it in different places. It’s by the time, by the time the child child is three or four. I’m not sure which one’s right. You think there’s more to it than that. You think that the quantity of language is not the only factor.

Dr. Golinkoff: 23:14

Right? So the people who listened to your podcast, Jen, are likely speaking with their children and having conversations, which is great because it’s not just a number of words that are addressed to children that matters. And we have the research now to prove it. So we conducted a study where we wanted to see among all lower class kids, 60 lower class kids who divided up into three groups: high language, middle language, low language. We wanted to see how their parents interacted with them going back in time when they were two. And we found that the children who landed in the high language group at three were the ones who at two had parents who built on what their child said, who conducted fluent conversations with them, who didn’t try to redirect the child’s interests, but built on what the kid was interested in. And we found that the quality of the communication exchange mattered more for where children landed in each of these language levels than the quantity, the number of words that past children’s ears that came out very clearly. So what does that mean to parents have to like think every time they open their mouth with their kids? No! Have fun with your kids. Talk with your kids, explain things, respond to their queries, answer them and ask them what else they want to know. You know, it doesn’t mean you have to take a course in how to speak to your child or get a Ph.D in English. By no means, you know, tell little stories. Kids love to hear about what you did when you were a kid. Your child, Jen ,might not be old enough for that yet.

Jen: 25:10

Not quite.

Dr. Golinkoff: 25:12

They love to hear about how you played in your back yard and how you walk to the library and I mentioned these things because these are just the kinds of things that I talked to my own kids about and they would ask for these stories over and over again. So you don’t have to get a Ph.D In English, you just tell the stories of your own lives, you know, and just respond to them, read to them. So reading is really key for language because we know that it’s not the number of books a child hears, but the conversations around the books.

Jen: 25:48

So how do you have a conversation around a book? How does that work?

Dr. Golinkoff: 25:51

So when a child, you’re reading a book about, you know, a family and there’s a dog in the picture of the key points to the dog. Even before you can talk, you could say you’re right, that dog looks like Nanna’s dog!. You’ve seen a dog like that, right? So when we read to kids, what we want to do is follow the little pointing finger. We don’t just want to read books to read books. It should be cuddling up and fun and lead to conversation and back and forth. I mean, people often feel like their goal is they gotta finish the book. They got to get to the next book. Especially because we’re all so busy. No! Think book as platform! Book as platform – what fun!

Jen: 26:40

And when you say follow the pointing finger, you don’t mean the parent’s pointing finger, right? And I assume you mean the child’s pointing finger?

Dr. Golinkoff: 26:47


Jen: 26:47

So what you’re asking us to do is to follow what the child is interested in and spend time on that.

Dr. Golinkoff: 26:52

Exactly. And that’s what always wins, right?

Jen: 26:55

Yeah. That’s really hard for me. I, I kind of need to finish the book.

Dr. Golinkoff: 27:02

But that’s about us, not them, right?

Jen: 27:03

Yeah, it is. It is.

Dr. Golinkoff: 27:05

You know, if you tell your child to not interrupt because you want to keep going, then your kid is getting the wrong message because you want to help the kid learn that books are a remarkably informative and remarkably fun. You want kids to love learning.

Jen: 27:23

And not something to be sat through.

Dr. Golinkoff: 27:24

So that’s exactly right. So I speak all over the world and I say, reading is not the time to teach your kids manners. This is not the time to say don’t interrupt. This is the time to follow the kids lead. That’s how your kid is getting to learn new words. That’s how your kid is going to learn new sentence structures and that’s how your kid is going to learn new content. So for example, books use sentence structures that we don’t use in real life. So if you ever talked to a three year old and the kid goes, and Poof! He disappeared!, you know that kid is being read to a lot because nobody talks like that, right? So books are remarkably important for growing children’s vocabulary, for growing children’s interests, for growing children, sentence structures and for helping them learn about the structure of story. So of course you’re going to finish the book most of the time because they’re gonna want to hear the conclusion because they know that the story will have a beginning, a problem and then resolution. And when kids know that they’ll do better in school because a lot of what happens in school is based on that narrative structure.

Jen: 28:38

Interesting. I want to shift gears a little bit and talk a bit about confidence. Sure. And in the book you cite Angela Duckworth’s Grit Scale, which measures the amount of kind of stick with it and it’s that people have. And I actually went and took the grit scale test on our website and you mentioned the research has found that the grit scale was better at predicting which cadets would drop out of West Point than the military, his own test to predict which cadets at West Point. So there’s a link in the references to where people could go and take this test if they want to. And I’m just wondering your thoughts as to, I don’t know if you have any thoughts on how we can improve our own grit, but how we can encourage our children to develop grit that leads to the confidence of the six cs.

Dr. Golinkoff: 29:18

So I don’t know about you, but every now and then I can’t do something and I get crazy.

Jen: 29:25

Yeah. Every once in a while. Tennis is like that for me.

Dr. Golinkoff: 29:33

Or something you’re trying to do with your computer, it’s making you nuts, right?

Jen: 29:38


Dr. Golinkoff: 29:38

So if your children, you freak out, you might want to modify just the little bit. You can have a mini freak out, but as long as you keep working on the problem, you’re modeling perseverance and grit for them. And it’s different than if you freak out, walk away, and then don’t come back to it. You know, you really want to show your kids that you can take on difficult problems and stick with it and you want to be in the face of children’s failures or your own failures. You want to view them as opportunities for learning. So when a kid comes home, for example, and they didn’t do well on a test, this is older than your kids aged, Jen. When a kid comes home and they didn’t do well and they’re not happy about it and you say to them, go to your room, no; that that doesn’t get you anywhere because it doesn’t help the child examine what it was they did and how they could operate differently.

Dr. Golinkoff: 30:41

So if we view failures as an opportunity to learn, we could say to the kid, you know, what do you think happened? Why did you do so poorly on the spelling test? And the kid could say, well, I didn’t get the words and you could say, well why didn’t you get the words and the kid can say, well, I was sick. So then you say, okay, so let’s get telephone numbers of kids in the class so we can call people when you’re sick to pick up the assignments. Or if the kid says I knew that there was going to be a test, but I didn’t do well. Tou say the kid, did you study? The kid says, what’s that right now? It’s true. A lot of little kids don’t know that you have to review and rehearse and study, so this is where parents come in. I remember my son was in the fifth grade. He said they gave me this list of stuff to memorize and said what do I do?

Jen: 31:36

So you’re talking a little older than toddlers here then?

Dr. Golinkoff: 31:39

Absolutely. But if you talk to kids about the fact that they didn’t study; they may not know what study requires, they may not know how to memorize stuff. If you can help them, there’s nothing wrong with that. Many schools don’t teach study techniques, so if you can help kids how to learn what they need to know, you’re helping them in two ways. You’re helping them with that immediate goal of learning that information and you’re also helping them with the idea that yeah, there are things I can do to help me learn stuff. So that’s where parents really come in handy. I always tell parents, don’t do your kids’ homework. That gives really bad message. It’s like, I can’t trust you to do it. I’m going to do it right and it says more about the parents on anxiety, but getting things right.

Jen: 32:27

Which actually brings me to something else I wanted to ask you about your views on praise and rewards is that often comes up in the subject of um, school and tests and things like that. So you cite Daniel Pink’s book drive because he argued that, and I’m going to quote the ability to learn and create new things and improve our world is the motivation that really matters and that comes from the inside, but in several places in the book, you described some very extrinsic motivators. So for example, that Jack and Larry will work together to put the blocks away because they enjoy pleasing the teacher, and encouraging sharing by saying, wow, you have such a good sharer, but you also cite Carol Dweck’s work on how praise can make children less willing to try new things. And I’m sure you know Alfie Kohn’s work, who’s a big favorite of mine. I wonder if you can help us to reconcile those two what seemed to me as fairly opposing perspectives.

Dr. Golinkoff: 33:17

You know, it’s really interesting that you raise this because we all respond to all kinds of praise and comment on our work. We’re all very sensitive about how other people view what we do; it just goes on throughout life. Carol Dweck’s work speaks specifically to the creation of a growth mindset. So there are two ways to view intelligence. One way is that you view it as a fixed entity. I had one child like this. You view it as a fixed entity and the minute you can’t do something, you say, Oh, I’m not good at that. Okay? Or you view intelligence and the brain as a muscle, it gets better with exercise. I had one of those too. So we want our children to think that there isn’t really anything that they can’t master if they put their mind to it. That’s a growth mindset. We don’t want on kids throwing up their hands and saying, I can’t do this because I’m not good at it.

Dr. Golinkoff: 34:28

So how do we make that happen? So we don’t want to tell children how smart they are because when we tell our children how smart they are, they often won’t try difficult tasks. This is Dweck’s own work. They won’t try difficult tasks because they’re worried about losing face. Ooh, you said I was so smart. I better not try that. What if I can’t do it? I’ll look like a dummy. Right? So that’s why we want to praise our children’s effort and we want to say things like, oh, you worked so hard at that. I’m really proud of how hard you were. And I see that you didn’t do it right at first, but you persevered, you hung in there. That’s great. Right? But we also can recognize that we sometimes do things for other people. Like I like when my husband tells me, you know, I cooked a nice dinner, which I don’t do often.

Jen: 35:22

There had better be praise involved in that!

Dr. Golinkoff: 35:27

Right. So you know, we can have a little bit of both and I would want my children to want to please their teachers because most of the teachers they are going to have will be reasonable humans who have my children’s interests at heart. So in fact, you know, sometimes kids don’t care if they please humans and then they have serious issues. So that’s, you know, like if you go off to the end of the spectrum there you have kids who really don’t care about what the people they love think. That’s a problem. So we want our kids to want to please the people who are caring about them and taking care of them. But that doesn’t mean that we have to praise everything that the kid does or that we can’t recognize that much of what children do. They do because it’s for them, it’s for them on the inside and not for us on the outside.

Dr. Golinkoff: 36:24

So the only thing that I would caution is not telling kids how smart they are all the time because I don’t want to make them feel frozen and they can’t take on new difficult tasks. And I, again, I would want to have a talk with children all the time when things aren’t going their way, even interpersonally, you know, what can you do differently to get Sally to like you and maybe it won’t work because you know, there’s some people I don’t like them, I’ll never like, you know, but these are the kinds of things that if we work over with kids and talk about these things, you’re encouraged them not to give up. It’s going to have long term benefit for our children.

Jen: 37:08

I’d like to draw a conclusion here by talking about something that’s really been on my mind a lot lately, which is the state of education in the US. You mentioned already the projection from the National Center on Education and economy that said American classrooms are preparing children for the workforce of 1953. And that the whole premise of the book is to understand how some of our parenting practices as well as our classrooms are failing to prepare our children for the workplace or even even the work of the future. So I’m wondering if you had a six year old today and you know, time and resources weren’t an issue, just to kind of get that out of the way, would you send him or her to school or would you consider alternate forms of education? I guess what I’m ultimately trying to ask is do you think there’s hope for American schools?

Dr. Golinkoff: 37:57

I do. I think that there are many classrooms with teachers who are extremely committed to their children and who want to do best by them. And what this means is the parent has to be an advocate. I don’t care if you have a kid in a private school, if you have your kid in a public school, you got to be your kid’s advocate and you got to do the research. So I have a six year old grandchild who was just with us for example, and his moms, two moms did research about who the parents in the grade considered to be among the best teachers. Why? And they then requested…and many times parents can make these requests for this particular teacher who they thought would go well with their child’s disposition and temperament. So I think there are definitely possibilities in today’s schools and I think if you’re a member of a Parent Teacher Association and if you continue to read, just like you said before, Jen that parents have discovered that the books that they read about having babies and infants aren’t sufficient to keep them going once their kids get into school.

Dr. Golinkoff: 39:14

So if they read a book like ours and Einstein Never Used Flash Cards, it will help them to try to influence what goes on in their child’s school. Now, I’m not going to be unrealistic about this because turning the ship of education, in some case, this is like turning a giant ocean liner. It takes forever. And so short of, you know, asking your kids class to be changed, that’s another possibility. Remember, you’ve got to be kid’s advocate. There are so many things that you can do at home even while you’re incredibly busy that can help your child develop the six C’s, the skills that they’re going to need for the future. And what that’s about is incorporating your children in what you’re doing and making it fun and pleasant. Now I gotta say I got back off here one second to make sure that people know that what I’m talking about is absolutely crucial and will reduce their own level of stress.

Dr. Golinkoff: 40:20

When we don’t include our kids and what we do. And we’re just like racing around trying to get this done. We’re feeling stress. And if we could figure out how to incorporate our kids a little bit into what we do and make it fun, our stress level would go down to. So Kathy and I use the term manic compression where we feel like we have to get everything in. I felt like that when my kids were little, I really did. And it’s not a great way to feel, you know, so if you can get your kids helping you. So what if they don’t fold the towels so well? You know you put them on the floor, big deal. You show them how to fold them. So what if they don’t set the table exactly like you like when they’re setting the table that practicing one to one correspondence and math, you know all these little things that you can do with them. If you’re not too critical, please don’t be too critical. It makes it harder on you! if you’re not too critical, you know can really increase the bond that you feel with your child and your child is just learning, learning, learning as they’re interacting with you.

Jen: 41:32

Thank you so much for your time today, Roberta, I really, really appreciate your taking the time to explain your thoughts about the book to us.

Dr. Golinkoff: 41:39

Jen, I’ll talk to you anytime.

Jen: 41:42

Thank you. So I’d like to remind listeners that the references for today’s episode or on YourParentingMojo.com; you can search for Becoming Brilliant and the book Becoming Brilliant, which Roberta coauthored with Kathy Hirsh-Pasek who was due to join us today, but unfortunately had some technical difficulties and was unable to speak with us, is available for purchase in your local bookstores or on Amazon, if you must. Thanks again for listening.




Duckworth, A. (2016). Grit Scale. Available at: http://angeladuckworth.com/grit-scale/  (Duckworth also wrote a book, although I haven’t read it…yet…: http://angeladuckworth.com/grit-book/)

Dweck, C. (2006). Mindset: The new psychology of success. New York, NY: Random House.

Golinkoff, R.M., & Hirsch-Pasek, K. (2016). Becoming Brilliant: What science tells us about raising successful children.  Washington, D.C.: American Psychological Association.

Kohn, A. (1999). Punished By Rewards. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.


Also published on Medium.

About the author, Jen

Jen Lumanlan (M.S., M.Ed.) hosts the Your Parenting Mojo podcast (www.YourParentingMojo.com), which examines scientific research related to child development through the lens of respectful parenting.


  1. Ayla on February 7, 2018 at 7:33 PM

    I just discovered your podcast and have been enjoying it immensely! I listened to the episode on praise right before listening to this one and found myself wishing you had explored the topic of praise a bit further with Roberta Golinkoff. While I find the argument for not praising compelling I am curious about the more middle of the road approach she seemed to be alluding to when compared to someone like Alfie Kohn. I guess I find myself questioning (and I mean truly questioning, not disregarding) how necessary or even realistic it is to try to eradicate praise from my interactions with my child. If I feel joy in something my child accomplished does it matter if I say, “You did it!” instead of good job when my disposition will communicate that I am pleased either way. Is the former truly a different message than the latter? It seems that some amount of doing things for the approval and pleasure of others is inevitable and not undesirable. I would love to hear your thoughts.

    • Jen Lumanlan on July 11, 2018 at 8:55 PM

      Hi Ayla – my apologies for my delayed response to your question – I was having immense problems with spam and just now got my spam filter sorted out so I can find the real questions buried amongst the offers for viagra and penile extensions!

      Ultimately I think your question is about our goals for our children, as well as about how our culture shapes our parenting.

      When we say “good job,” Alfie Kohn would say that what we are really saying is “I approve of what you are doing!” and that it is better for the child to want to do something for themself rather than to please an adult.

      It seems to me like saying “You did it!” is almost a middle ground to make parents happy – we really feel as though we need to say something, but we want to put the focus on the child’s achievement. Perhaps this focus could be put even more thoroughly on the child by saying “You did it! How did it feel?”

      I am personally concerned about raising a child who disregards what others think to the extent that she doesn’t care what others think and will do what she likes regardless of anyone else. Perhaps this is less likely with a girl than a boy (since our society puts forth a lot of messages about how girls/women should care for others that I may not be able to override by myself even if I wanted to).

      So, in general, I try to find something of a middle ground. I don’t say “good job,” ever (although I did a few times when she was tiny – we have it on video and my husband likes to tease me about it).

      For minor achievements, I generally don’t say anything at all, or I’ll pay attention to some aspect of the thing (like the main color in the fuse bead arrangement she’s just done).

      For major achievements (like climbing a structure she couldn’t climb the last time we visited that park) I’ll say “You did it this time! Your body is taller and stronger now, isn’t it? How does it feel to be up so high?”

      For social issues, I’ll call out the way in which it helped the other person. Last weekend we went out with an animal tracking group; another child was playing with a stick but dropped it and walked off; Carys picked up the stick and was going to play with it but the other child turned around and said “where’s my stick?” Carys tentatively held out the stick the other child said “thanks,” and walked off. I could tell she was disappointed so I said “You thought she was done with that stick and you wanted to play with it, huh? Thanks for giving it back to her; it looks like she wasn’t quite done and she’s happy to have it back.” In doing this I acknowledged the pro-social behavior without making a big deal out of it; if Carys had been any more upset I would have offered to help her look for another stick or asked the girl to let us know when she was really done.

      On balance, I would say if you truly feel joy in a real accomplishment, there’s no harm in sharing that with your child. At the same time, you might want to examine what you consider to be a “real accomplishment” so as not to over-use the praise.

      Hope this helps!

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