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When Your Child Says She Hates to Learn (Part 2)

Now that you’ve identified that your child is a refusal-to-put-in-the-work, acting-up, perfection-or-bust, or seeking-constant-reassurance bright kid (or just a kid with a nose), perhaps you would like some guidance? Last month I talked all about a fixed mindset and how it leads to these unfortunate presentations (and if you haven’t read it, no judgment, but you’ll want to read that post before you go any further). Then I said nothing, not even a single word, about what you could do to help your child. You were left wondering, should I say no to ribbons and trophies? Should I discourage my child from counting the freckles on her ankles? What, Dr. Baker?!? What shall I do to help my child love to learn again?!?

Do you see what I did there? So clever of me to rope you in and then leave you wondering, though I do hope that you signed up for our monthly newsletter as it gave a nice little intro to this post. Wait no longer loyal readers, here’s what you came for…

Super speedy review first!

Fixed mindset is:

A belief that your qualities are carved in stone–that you have a certain amount of talent and that’s that. In a fixed mindset, effort is only for those who can’t make it on talent and success is about being more gifted than others.

Growth mindset is:

A belief that basic qualities are things that you can cultivate through effort– that, while people may differ in initial talents, interests, aptitudes and temperaments, everyone can change and improve through application and experience. People in a growth mindset are able to look frankly at their weaknesses, challenge themselves, learn something hard and stick with it. Effort, finding strategies that work, and seeking input from others are seen as the keys to success.

We ALL have a fixed mindset sometimes. We ALL have a growth mindset sometimes. And in many cases, we have a smattering of both. However, it’s a real service to our children and ourselves to strive for a growth mindset ALL the time as too much of a fixed mindset can literally undo the natural love of learning we were all born with.

Instill a growth mindset:

Talk to your children about mindset. The very act of teaching the difference between a fixed mindset versus a growth mindset makes a difference! Research by Dr. Carol Dweck indicates that telling children about stories of a growth mindset helps them adopt a similar outlook. For an example to share, you might tell your child about some of Dweck’s research on students entering junior high who were matched on grades. Dweck concluded that those with a growth mindset improved their math grades incrementally over the course of their junior high experience while those with a fixed mindset demonstrated worsened math grades by the end of junior high. Another super fun example of how a growth mindset can be beneficial can be found in this little video that I like to show children, especially if they have interest in athletics. Spoiler alert: it includes some friendly banter between olympic runners who seem pretty committed to improvement despite their obvious success.

Model a healthy response to failure. The next time you don’t master something, you have the perfect opportunity to discuss your experience with your child. Struggling to get out the door on time in the morning? Burned the meal at dinnertime? Forgot about a deadline? These are all instances when you can fess up to your mistakes and talk out loud about how you might improve. This normalizes the learning process and reminds your child (and you) that there is always work to be done in order to get better.

Encourage studying to learn, not to memorize. Repetitive review of material to ace an exam is memorization and a lot less likely to stick than true learning of the material such as going over mistakes until you’re sure you understand them. Looking for unique strategies that suit the learner and studying with the purpose of understanding will result in better grades! It should be noted that, for those in a fixed mindset, rather than trying to repair or learn from a failure, they are likely to try to repair their self-esteem by looking for others who are worse.

Allow progress, improved learning tactics, and effort to be the basis for success. Making your 15-year-old daughter’s phone privileges dependent on her getting all A’s and B’s at school may be very tempting given how motivated she seems by her phone usage. One problem with this, however, is that it sets a tone that you value good grades not good study habits and fails to acknowledge that school is a place for learning (and seems to suggest that she should have mastered the subject already). A better strategy? Praise your child for improvements in study habits. Question how she studied and discuss how well those tactics worked for her or help her study and have a conversation about what you notice. Reinforce the work that your child puts into learning (such as attending after school tutoring or asking for additional practice). Don’t emphasize scores, grades, or trophies.

Teach the importance of strategy and goal-setting. Think of a time you were enjoying doing something and then it got hard and you wanted out. Unless you were just in it for fun, chances are that you didn’t have a realistic perspective on the work that it would require. If there’s something that your child enjoys and wants to get better in, help him create realistic, short-term goals for himself and figure out what he needs to achieve it. Consider hiring a coach or tutor and creating a practice schedule. If your 5-year-old son is expressing interest in learning how to write all of his letters by the end of summer, make a plan to introduce 2 or 3 new letters each week and help him map it out on a calendar so he can see his progress toward achieving his goal. Praise his work toward his goals.

Use the word “yet” regularly. People with a fixed mindset thrive when things are safely within their grasp. Depending on a person’s current capacity, this could signal some pretty big limitations. The concept of “yet” is simple. If your child says, “I don’t understand the math…” you add ”YET!” Again, this sends the message that working toward something is the norm and reinforces a value around effort.

Stop saying “You’re so smart.” In fact, re-think labels altogether. Labeling someone as smart actually has a negative impact on them! Likewise, saying things like, “Ben is such an artist” or “Elizabeth is so bright, she got an A without even studying” lead to Ben thinking to himself  “I shouldn’t try too hard, they’ll see I’m not that talented” and Elizabeth thinking “I better not study or they won’t think I’m bright.” Making these sort of statements devalues the effort needed to be exceptional at things and reinforces a fixed mindset.

There you have it folks– 7 things that you can do that I guarantee will help you and your child begin to love learning again. One more reminder also that no one is ALWAYS in a growth mindset. If you’ve been making some mistakes due to fixed mindset issues, you’re one of many. Now that you know these things, put on your observation goggles. You’ll notice lots of opportunities to support a growth mindset in your children. Know also that a lot of this may not feel intuitive since many of us were the victims of empty praise ourselves, but don’t give up just because you haven’t mastered the growth mindset… yet!

At Intuition Wellness Center we specialize in integrated behavioral health services and programs for children, young adults and families and supporting other like-minded professionals in doing good work. If you think you need more than what this mindset series offered or, if after trying this, you still think your child (and/or those around her) could use some extra support, call us. We offer school success consultations and a variety of evaluations as well as parent guidance and a slew of other supportive services. Call 520-333-3320 for a free phone consultation.

You might also pop on over to our Facebook or Pinterest pages for lots more great stuff.

Written by: Brandy Baker, PsyD

Image Credit: Steven Depolo. via

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When Your Child Says She Hates to Learn (Part 1)

Refusing to do homework, acting up in school, turning everything into a competition, constantly seeking positive feedback, falling apart when something isn’t perfect… These are all warning signs that your child may lose her love of learning. And it’s dreadful really, because what is there if there isn’t learning?

When a baby is learning to walk, she falls and gets back up over and over again because she is determined to learn– driven by a desire to master this challenge and undeterred by the effort needed to do so. And then, after a child becomes capable of looking at herself critically, sometimes she starts to view effort as a bad thing. Somehow, some children begin to develop the belief that, if they were truly smart or talented, then they wouldn’t need to put in effort. A resistance toward challenge develops and a fear of failure takes hold. This is what research psychologist, Carol Dweck, calls a “fixed mindset.”

A few ways a fixed mindset manifests:

Refusal to Put in the Work: Putting in effort and failing is threatening to the self concept of a child with a fixed mindset, so your child may just refuse to work at all. At least then, when the night before your teen son’s physics mid-term he still hasn’t ventured past chapter 1, there’s no question as to what the outcome will be the next day and when, inevitably, his performance suffers, then he has the handy excuse of not having tried anyway.

Acting Up: In a ploy to avoid being “found out” as not knowing something or not being a complete expert, your child may tantrum, create a diversion, or engage in behaviors that force punishment. A theme of major meltdowns in math class everyday may be less about the teacher and more about your child’s insecurities. Sabotaging her long-awaited chance to promote to orange belt in karate may feel easier in the moment than being put on the spot in front of her instructor and peers and risking her identity as an impressive student. And one that seems to resonate with many families– knocking the “Sorry” game board across the room and spitting out, “I hate you,” because big sister caught him cheating on his third turn… much safer to just quit and blame another than to risk failing by playing by the rules.

Perfection or Bust: Because a fixed mindset leads to misperceptions of all talents being natural and effortless and a very black and white way of thinking about ability (either you have it or you don’t), a need to prove oneself against peers may develop. Rather than a child’s own performance becoming her measuring stick, she may be pushed repeatedly to the brink of a major breakdown in her pursuit of the title of valedictorian. This form of competition is not encouraging and does not lead to a positive peer culture, but rather becomes a rat race of kids valuing perfection (measured by grades and trophies) rather than progress.

Seeking Constant Reassurance: For the child intent on maintaining his title role as the best of the best (because he has interpreted this to mean that he has value in the world), failure does not appear to be an option. He asks, “Do you like my picture?” after every single stroke of his paintbrush. And when your daughter receives constructive criticism from her English teacher on her “To Kill a Mockingbird” essay, rather than valuing it as feedback that will help her improve and learn from her assignment, she begins to complain that her teacher is mean and doesn’t like her.

These stories resonate because every person everywhere has witnessed and dealt with a fixed mindset at some point. It’s the terrible result and continuing aftershocks of an experiment gone wrong– the one where an entire generation was subjected to adults repeatedly saying “good job” without meaning or specificity. The one where we were emptily awarded ribbons for participation even if we showed no interest or motivation to participate or improve and sat week after week on the sidelines counting the freckles on our left ankles.

Can a fixed mindset be repaired? Yes! And it’s easier than you might think! Here’s the link to get my 7 steps to a healthier mindset. In part 2 of my mindset series, I talk about many things you can do to start to transform your and your child’s fixed mindset into a growth mindset.

You might also pop on over to our Facebook or Pinterest pages for lots more great stuff, including some great little posts on mindset.

At Intuition Wellness Center we specialize in integrated behavioral health services and programs for children, young adults and families and supporting other like-minded professionals in doing good work. Call 520-333-3320 for a free phone consultation.

Written by: Brandy Baker, PsyD

Image Credit: Monica H. via

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