Carol Dweck’s book Mindset is gaining popularity by the day around the world in business, education and academia. For us and our children to thrive, we must have an attitude, or mindset which is open and comfortable with challenges, struggles and mistakes. She calls this having a ‘growth mindset’.
Neuroscience has discovered that gene expression, brain neurons and intelligence are not fixed at birth as was stated in the past. Our thoughts and beliefs can influence how genes are expressed as well as how our brain neurons are wired.
What has this got to do with parenting? Everything.
Are we believing that we ourselves cannot learn certain things? Are your children hearing you say the following about yourself? ‘That’s the way I am, I cannot change’; ‘I am hopeless at ________’; ‘I could never____________’; ‘I was always bad at_______’?
If they are hearing this, then you are modelling to them a ‘fixed mindset’. Don’t expect their attitude or language to be any different to yours after they have encountered some bad marks on an assignment, test or been given negative sincere feedback on performance.
Even if we are not good at something, it’s better to use language that expresses that we are challenged and are trying to improve or at least that we are willing and believe we could improve with coaching, extra support and effort.
We and our children are far better off hearing, “I am struggling so much to finish this project/these tasks, but I’ll get it done. I just need some advice or to organise myself a little better or do some extra research”, or they can hear us say, “Academic achievements are not the only way we can contribute to the world. Many inventors and entrepreneurs did not have university degrees; it’s one’s attitude to learning that matters”.
We say this to the child who struggles academically not to the child who is very strong in this area.
We must avoid messages that imply that all is lost if they don’t pass certain tests or go on to tertiary education. There are endless possibilities for those who are not academically inclined.
Statements like ‘Wow, you got so many right! How did you do that?’ are much more empowering for your child than ‘Why did you get those wrong?’.
Confidence, belief in self, self-image are everything to us. Children as young as four years old start noticing what others can do and compare themselves to others. At this tender, innocent age they can start telling themselves that they ‘can’t’ or that they are not good enough.
It is our job as parents and teachers to help build resilience in them, by supporting them so they accept that struggle and effort are good and make one strong, like the athlete who achieves through tremendous effort, coaching, perseverance and encouragement.
No athlete succeeds by winning every race or competition or being told they are not good enough and having mistakes highlighted perpetually. They fail, make mistakes and are trained to grow and develop their strengths and yes, gradually weed out the weaknesses.
The growth mindset is the path to success. The fixed mindset is the way to a compromised life. Let’s be mindful of our own self talk and how we address our children.
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