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School Dread? Change their mindset in four steps

As your kids get ready to go back to school (or resume online school), do you wonder what more you can do to help them succeed academically or thrive socially? In her updated 2017 version of her book, Mindset, Carol Dweck, the psychologist who researched and coined the terms “growth mindset” and “fixed mindset,”cautions us that true mindset change requires more than just “picking up a few tricks”. It requires us to take a journey and change our perspective. Before school begins, start that journey and change their (and your) mindset with four steps!

A few of years ago on this blog, we talked about “fixed mindset”, a belief that one’s qualities and abilities are fixed, and that one can’t readily change or grow. This belief leads to problems such as: acting up, perfectionism, and seeking constant reassurance. We explained how adopting a “growth mindset”, a belief that people can learn and improve through effort, can promote learning. We suggested some simple growth mindset practices you could try.

Now seems like a good time to check back in with you about this. Did you try some of the growth mindset practices we suggested?  Did you find your situation improved in the short-term, but eventually returned to the way it was before? Have you and your child fallen back into old “fixed mindset” ways of thinking and behaving? Changing behavior can be hard! It’s never too late to restart your journey and change your mindset in four steps. 

The Growth Mindset Journey

Dweck outlines the process to change mindset in four steps, summarized below. Read on for an in-depth explanation of each step! 

  1. Embrace your fixed mindset. 
  2. Become aware of your fixed mindset triggers.
  3. Give your fixed mindset persona a name.
  4. Educate your fixed mindset persona and take it on the journey with you.
Embrace Your Fixed Mindset

The first step, “Embrace your fixed mindset”, involves becoming aware of your fixed mindset thoughts when they arise, and acknowledging and accepting them for what they are.  Many people believe that they can solve their problems and become happier by changing their thoughts. Therefore, when people try to take up a growth mindset, they often try to suppress, replace, or avoid fixed mindset thoughts.  However, the principles of mindfulness tell us that trying to change our thinking in this way often makes us think unwanted thoughts even more. It creates more internal struggle. 

If you’re not convinced, try this little thought experiment: For a full minute, don’t think about popcorn. Whatever you do, don’t think about popcorn. Try to avoid thinking about it at all costs. Think about bananas instead. 

What happened?  Did you think about popcorn? Of course you did!  That is just the way the mind works. So instead of trying to avoid or change fixed mindset thoughts, try just noticing your fixed mindset thoughts with nonjudgmental awareness. Let them be just as they are.  Notice them. Note that they are there. You might say to yourself silently, “I’m having the thought that I’ll never be able to learn this,” or, “I notice I’m having the thought that Jake is never going to get better.” Try noticing your fixed mindset thoughts like this for a few days. It may help to remember, we all have fixed mindset thoughts sometimes. None of us embodies a growth mindset 100% of the time.

Become Aware of Your Fixed Mindset Triggers

In the second step of this journey, “Become aware of your fixed mindset triggers,” we start to identify when our fixed mindset shows up. Maybe your fixed mindset kicks in when you take on a new challenge, when you’ve failed at something, or when you hear about someone else doing something (like baking a cake or writing a report), a lot better than you can. For a week or two, notice whenever your fixed mindset is triggered and write down the situation that sets off your fixed mindset thinking. Then review your list of triggers and note any patterns. You may find that you have a number of fixed mindset triggers, but that there are some triggers that you are especially sensitive to. This is helpful information. You can use it as you continue on with your journey.

Give Your Fixed Mindset Persona A Name

For the third step, Dweck recommends you give your fixed mindset a first name and think about how your fixed mindset impacts your life and others. Some of you may find giving your fixed mindset persona a name to be helpful, but if this doesn’t feel right to you, skip it. Just be sure to spend time thinking deeply about how your fixed mindset affects your life and others in your life in different ways. 

If your family, friends, or co-workers who you interact with regularly are going on a growth mindset journey with you, you can sit down together and discuss how each person’s fixed mindset persona affects them as well as everybody else in your group. Alternatively, you can spend some time writing about the effects of your fixed mindset in a journal. However you choose to do it, see if you can approach this step with an attitude of curiosity and kindness. Perhaps explore why your fixed mindset has taken hold. Often, a fixed mindset develops to protect us from rejection and harm. Our mind tries hard to protect us!

Educate Your Fixed Mindset Persona and Take it on the Journey with You.

For the last step, we continue to be aware when we have a fixed mindset thought and accept it for what it is. We begin to apply our new understanding of our fixed mindset as we go about our daily lives. Begin a silent, internal dialogue with the fixed mindset part of you. When the fixed mindset shows up, try to empathize with it. Thank it for its input. Tell it you’d like try something a little different and and ask it if it’s willing to bear with you as you try a different way. If you’re working on adopting a growth mindset alongside others, you can help each other. When you find yourself becoming judgmental of others’ skills or abilities, let them know that your fixed mindset is active. When either of you fall into a fixed mindset, you can ask each other for support. 

Don’t Lose Sight of the Journey

So now you’re on your way! As you continue along this path, know this: Often when people start to change their behavior and notice improvement, they think the improvement will stick around without any additional effort on their part. They stop doing the things that caused the improvement. Then the situation gets worse again! 

As with any kind of behavior change, to see lasting change, we need to continue to do the things that help. Dweck advises us that change requires commitment, as well as time, effort, and support from others. When you find your motivation decreasing or your behavior slipping, gently remind yourself why you embarked on this journey. Be kind to yourself and remember we all misstep from time to time. Then revisit the process outlined here and step back on the path to growth and learning! Bon voyage!

Debby Urken, LMSW is a child and family therapist at Intuition Wellness Center in Tucson, AZ. To schedule an appointment, please fill out an online request . 

At Intuition Wellness Center, we specialize in health and wellness services for children, young adults, and their families. If you think you would like some extra support, we’re here for you.

By Debby Urken, LMSW; Child & Family Therapist at Intuition Wellness Center


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Fidgeting, Wiggling, Doodling: 3 reasons to encourage these ‘naughty’ behaviors at school

Remember a few years ago when fidget spinners were a big deal? If your child is the right age, you may have even been one of the families on the receiving end of a communication from your child’s teacher or school administration announcing the ban on fidget spinners. This is one of many things banned from schools with the explanation that they are distracting– gum, headphones, certain types of jewelry, etc.


I understand how this comes to be. Think of the last time you were with a child and took a long car trip, or waited a long time for your food at a restaurant or stood in a long line. Did they wiggle? Fidget? Ask ‘how much longer?’ Of course. It’s developmentally appropriate. Now imagine that times about 25. Yes, 25 sweetie pies all wiggling and fidgeting 6-8 hours a day in their classrooms. Teachers deserve a crown, a throne, piles of treasure and donuts for their amazing abilities. It’s hard to manage that amount of movement and potential for distraction. I can understand why many schools create so many limits. 

Yet, fidgeting, wiggling and doodling are typically an attempt to adapt to the circumstances. Said another way, your child is probably engaging in these things in an effort to be GOOD not bad. To get their movement and stimulation needs met, not to be troublesome for the classroom. 

3 Reasons to Allow a Child to Fidget

  1. Your child probably isn’t getting enough exercise. The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests that only about 5% of children are getting the recommended 60 minutes of daily physical activity.  In addition, numerous pressures on schools have led to up to 40% of school districts within the U.S. reducing or cutting recess. Recess is associated with improved social and emotional outcomes as well as academic achievement (memory, attention, grades, attendance, and classroom behavior!). You can see why shortened recess is a problem. Less opportunity for movement can lead to excess energy.
  2. Your child probably feels anxious. Particularly at the beginning of the academic year, as children are transitioning to the new structure of school, to a new morning routine, to a new teacher, and perhaps a new classroom or building, they will be nervous. There will be unknowns for them as they learn about what’s expected of them. They may be standing up in front of a new classroom of peers or being called upon for the first time this year. Some anxiety is to be expected. Anxiety can look like restlessness, agitation, and tension of the body. Exercise, particularly frequent and short bouts, is a great natural way to reduce anxiety. Yet, this isn’t available to a child during the vast majority of their school day. What is? Wiggling. Little movements like tapping toes, clicking a pen, and nibbling on pencil all exert nervous energy. Doodling on the corner of their page may also be cathartic.
  3. Your child is probably bored. We’re all bored numerous times a day! This is actually NOT a bad thing, but it does mean that the brain is under-stimulated. The human brain will seek a cure to its boredom which can lead a person to their most curious and creative moments. Diagnoses of ADHD, anxiety, depression and sensory integration disorder (sensory processing) are all related to stimulation needs. The body tries to accommodate and get the brain to the just-right-place of stimulation and when it does, it can be present in the moment. This is why you may pick at your cuticles during a work meeting or drum your fingers while you wait for an appointment. Interestingly, research suggests that fidgeting can release neurotransmitters in the brain that mimic the effects of ADHD medications and support better concentration and sustained attention. A child who can fidget is actually more likely to be able to pay attention to the lesson in the classroom.

Tips for improving your child’s concentration and attention

  1. Appeal to your teacher, school administrator or district if your child’s school has cut back on recess, takes recess away as punishment or uses it as a time for kids to catch up on overdue work. 
  2. Ensure that you’re allowing plenty of movement time for your child elsewhere. Try an activity like yoga or taekwondo which both support physical and mental fitness.
  3. Find out what your child’s teachers do to encourage movement and share resources on ways to incorporate classroom movement.
  4. Find out if the teacher will consider gum chewing (or chewelry), standing desks and cozy corners that allow for various sitting positions or lying down (read: wiggling), midday walking breaks, standing up instead of raising hands, incorporating drawing during assignments, rotating stations in the classroom, listening to music or doodling as a way to fight boredom and attention issues.
  5. Teach your child mindfulness and meditation. Meditation also supports improved attention and concentration.
  6. Be sure that your child is getting enough sleep. Stay strong during bedtime battles. A rested brain operates from a full cup and won’t be distracted by tiredness or need as much stimulation to stay alert.
  7. Pay attention to your child’s diet and talk to a doctor about your child’s eating habits. A malnourished brain is also more susceptible to concentration difficulties. The gut is the second brain after all. Some people especially need predictable snack and meal times and need to eat more frequently. Many teachers are willing to offer snack times during school day (and definitely will with a doctor’s note).

Join Dr. Kate Sage for “Happy Belly, Happy Kid: A parents’ heart-to-heart

At Intuition Wellness Center we specialize in integrated services and wellness programs for children, young adults and families and supporting other like-minded professionals in doing good work. We offer parent education seminars, wellness classes and other supportive services. If you think you would like some extra support, call us. Call 520-333-3320 for a free phone consultation.

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