The trend in recent years that led parents and teachers to boost children’s self-esteem by rewarding them for doing little other than breathing may soon be over, thanks to new research that says such actions are actually making kids less intelligent.

“We used to think we could hand children self-esteem on a platter,” Stanford University psychologist Carol Dweck said. “That has backfired.”

Experts believe easy, unearned praise interferes with significant learning opportunities, partly because numerous studies show children rewarded for being smart become less likely to tackle hard assignments that might tarnish their star reputations. In addition, kids who are often told they’re smart are vulnerable to coasting and become easily frustrated when they don’t succeed.

On the other hand, kids who are instead praised for trying hard or taking risks tend to enjoy challenges and find greater success. They also perform better in the long term when they understand intellect is not a birthright but something that grows and develops as they learn new things.

That’s not just subjective opinion — brain imaging shows connections between nerve cells in the cortex multiply and grow stronger as we learn and practice new skills, which is science that many teachers are passing on to students.

“It has to do with the way you are going to live the rest of your life — whether you will continue to learn, be curious, have an active, growing brain or whether you are going to sit and let things happen to you,” teacher teacher Shar Hellie told her seventh-grade class before playing a YouTube video that explains how brains grow.

Michelle A. Rhee, former chancellor of schools in Washington, DC, says her daughters’ many soccer trophies are warping their sense of their athletic abilities since they actually “suck” at the game.

“We’ve become so obsessed with making kids feel good about themselves that we’ve lost sight of building the skills they need to actually be good at things,” Rhee said.

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