Words are powerful. To build a braveheart, a child who has courage to try, parents and teachers need to praise the right things. Even the smallest comment can convince a child that he or she is either smart or dumb, gifted or unable. Either way, the child is stuck. The one convinced that he or she is smart or gifted has no need to go for it, they already have it! The one convinced that he or she is dumb or unable has no reason to try, they think it won't make any difference.
Here are more of Dr. Washburn's comments that explain the power of words. You can read the entire piece at http://ecologyofeducation.net/wsite/?p=3052 from his October 20 post in Ecology of Learning. While Dr. Washburn's comments are about learning, the power of words affects any area of a child's life and his or her courage to try.
"Words reinforce beliefs, and beliefs, especially those about intelligence, influence learning. Students can hold or lean toward either believing intelligence is something you’re born with (or without), or intelligence is something you gain through effort. A student who believes you’re born smart—or not—is less likely to put forth effort to learn. This student seeks to convince those around him that he is one of the chosen who were given the gift of smart at birth. Either that, or the student may believe he is not among the chosen so effort is futile. The same belief interpreted differently yields the same result: a student who is unlikely to work to learn when learning does not come instantly or easily."
"This mostly erroneous belief can be slippery. A student may believe it is true in one discipline but not another. For example, the same student can believe that you are/aren’t born smart in mathematics, but that you get better at reading through effort."
"Where do these beliefs originate? Many times in the home. We’ve probably all heard a student say something like, 'My dad said that I’m probably not good at math because when he was my age, he wasn’t good at math either.' The father’s words conveyed, confirmed, and/or introduced the wrong belief. When adopted by the child, the erroneous belief becomes an obstacle to learning.
"However, communicating the wrong idea about intelligence is not usually so overt. In fact, it can show up in a statement intended to encourage learning: 'Wow, Sam, you’re really good at math.' Such a statement emphasizes a belief that intelligence is something you are/aren’t born with because it suggests innate ability rather than drawing attention to the effort-result relationship. 'Wow, Sam, you worked hard on this and look at these results!' is better because it reinforces the idea that we get smart through effort."
"Words that Ignite Learning"
You may also look at Dr. Washburn's Clerestory Learning