A 3-year-old dressed in a princess costume falls to the floor and shouts, “I can’t put on my shoes!” A kindergartener attempts to help Mom in the kitchen and decides to set the table “all by myself,” only to fall apart when a glass of water gets knocked down accidently.
It is absolutely easier to step in and do the task for a child, rather than watch them struggle. However, by doing that we are sending them the message that they are incapable of doing the task. Instead, try taking a step back and giving children the chance to experience failure and move forward.
Why? Psychologist Carol Dweck, a researcher at Stanford University, says there are two types of mindsets: a fixed mindset and a growth mindset. People with a fixed mindset believe that their abilities – mental or physical – are fixed. These people tend to make little effort toward improving their current skillset. People with a growth mindset believe that their intelligence and other skills grow with time. They realize that their effort has a direct impact on their success. As a result, they are more likely to see failure as something they can learn from.
To help children develop a growth mindset, Dweck advises teaching them to love challenges, be intrigued by mistakes, enjoy effort and keep on learning. Here are some ways we can help foster a growth mindset in the children we love and care for.
Mind your language
Preschool age children are in the early stages of developing their self-concept. The language parents and educators use with them, particularly when they face challenges or struggle to learn a new skill, tells children what to believe and what we think of them. Instead of saying “It’s not that hard,” try saying, “You can do hard things.”
Brittany McCabe, a local mom, blogger and early-childhood specialist, says it is important to be mindful of the words we say and of the tone in our voices when we respond to our kids. She reminds parents and educators to keep their responses objective, descriptive and encouraging. “Without inspiring a child to question, gather, test and observe the world around them, you are not serving their development,” she says.
Using “process praise” instead of “product praise” is another way to steer children’s mindset over to the positive path. “Great job!” and “You are so smart!” are some examples of “product praise” that I hear in a classroom or from fellow parents. Elisha Gonzalez, director at Fox Child Development Center in Century City, agrees that product praise comes more naturally to educators and parents. “Process praise helps children feel proud of the progress they have made,” she says. “I strive to help teachers understand the importance of process praise.”
Process praise ties children’s actions to their success. When children are praised for their efforts and taught to take ownership of their failure, they see failure as an important part of learning and grow to take risks. This helps build confidence, resilience and self-esteem. It sounds something like this: “Well done. I noticed how much you practiced.”Or, in the case of recognizing a good grade, “What helped you do so well?”
Grow that brain
I tell my young students that our brains become stronger as we learn. I offer them a visual of a brain lifting weights, except that the weights are the hard tasks we do, the questions we ask and the new things we try. They think it is funny, but explaining to them that struggling at something they are learning is actually helping their brain grow, is a concept that they are excited about.
Why do some children thrive on challenges and show resilience, while others do not? Parenting coach Susan Stone, author of “The Indulgence Trap,” says that it seems to be a combination of nature and nurture. “Parents can help build resilience by modeling, by teaching their children a winner’s mentality (failures are just opportunities to learn), by encouraging children and being non-judgmental about failed attempts,” she says. She also reminds parents that todevelop perseverance, the ability to take risks and the sense that they will learn, survive and prevail, children must be allowed to experience challenges.
The power of yet
Encourage and model positive self-talk. When your find your children being critical of themselves, tell them it is important to be kind to oneself. If your child is struggling with a task such as tying a shoelace, stress the power of “yet.” Say, “You cannot tie your shoes, yet.” This helps them understand that learning a skill takes time and that it is a process.
Books are another powerful resource for promoting a growth mindset in kids. Books are filled with internal scripts that help kids with their thought processes in solving a problem. Some great books on growth mindset are “Your Fantastic Elastic Brain” by JoAnn Deak, “The Dot” by Peter H. Reynolds and “The Most Magnificent Thing” by Ashley Spires. You can always use these books in conversations and refer back to them.
When should you introduce your child to the concept of growth mindset? Brittany answers this question simply by saying, “Growth mindset should be just that, a mindset,” says McCabe. “There should not be a time in their lives that a mindset is all of a sudden put into practice. It should be active from birth.” There will be many times in your daily routine with your kids that are perfect for helping shape a growth mindset. Once you start to recognize these moments, you can use these opportunities to actively model growth mindset skills. Empower your parenting with these skills and watch your children learn, grow and thrive.