Have you read this article: How Not To Talk To Your Kids?
It's a long read, but very, very worth it. Go ahead and read it, I'll wait here.
When I first started to read the article, I was getting the impression that I wasn't supposed to praise my children, that I should give more constructive criticism, and I was worried about making them feel like they could never please their mother. Then I read more and realized that it was not really saying that at all. It was saying I need to give more specific praise; praise for what it is they do, not just for what they are. And that is information I can really get behind. It goes on to state that in studies, children who were told they were "intelligent" did not apply themselves as much as children who were told they "worked hard". The "intelligent" children didn't apply themselves as thoroughly because they were then afraid of not appearing as intelligent if they tried and failed, so they just opted not to try. The children who were told they "worked hard", when confronted with a project that was difficult, worked even harder. They knew they had the ability to work hard, and therefore had confidence in their abilities.
I can see this being played out in my very home. My daughter is so very smart. She really is an intelligent girl, and we've heaped boatloads of praise onto her. But she lacks any self confidence, often refusing to try anything she knows she won't ace on the first go 'round. She's afraid she'll look stupid. My son, on the other hand, is also intelligent. But he's had problems with his reading and we've always praised him extra whenever he tried harder, went beyond what he thought he could do. He's not afraid to look stupid. He just tries even harder.
Now, don't get me wrong, both of my children are children, and therefore they want to give up on things that require a lot of blood, sweat, and tears. They want us to do it for them. But I have noticed this pattern of working/not working, trying/not trying in their schoolwork. And you can bet I'm going to be heaping more praise on my girl for the work she does; more specific praise for how hard she tries. And I'll be telling them both about how they can exercise their brains and make them bigger (and smarter) by trying harder things. Also, I'll be telling them that not being able to do something at first just means you have to try and try again. They tell my son that in his Tae Kwon Do class - "Do not give up!" they shout, "You can do it!"
Yes, kids, you can. And now I can help you.