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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 creativecommons.org

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The Best Gifts You Can Give Your Child

A quick Google search for “Christmas Gift for Child” and up pop websites advertising things such as Minecraft Lego sets that the distributor suggests can be combined with other sets to create a Minecraft world, Hot Wheel’s race tracks complete with 2 quick kick loops, Disney’s Frozen plastic dolls featuring a “multi-colored bodice,” black and silver ride-on cars described as “sleek” that are capable of achieving speeds of 12mph, and a slew of other fancifully packaged options that will, undoubtedly, grace the tree skirts and stockings of many American children this Christmas season. If Amazon’s website sees as much traffic this year as they did on Cyber Monday of 2013, sales will reach an average of 426 items purchased per second. The marketing masterminds behind kid’s toys and games will surely rake in billions again this year and many of us will do our part in supporting American economy this holiday season. But the best gifts in life really are free…

Dr. Baker’s Top Tips for Instilling a Healthy Sense of Self-Worth in Your Child:

  1. Be a Good Role Model. When speaking about yourself in front of your child, avoid self-deprecating statements. Instead, speak openly about what gives you purpose and your strengths. When you make a mistake or wish to improve on a skill, speak about what was learned from your experience, how your current knowledge will impact future choices and what you propose doing to improve on your skills.
  2. Recognize and Embrace Natural Talents. Given enough opportunities for shining moments, a child’s overall self-confidence can only go up. If you notice that your child is especially talented at science, for example, enroll her in a science camp or club where her talents will blossom and be appreciated by others. Especially for a child who has developed an unbalanced sense of herself as incapable, this will tip the scales back and help her recognize herself as a multi-faceted person with strengths and weaknesses.
  3. Set Him Up for Success. Remind yourself what expectations are realistic for your child, which may not be the same as what other kids his age are doing. While your neighbor’s 4-year-old may be capable of sitting still and keeping quiet while her mother makes a 10-minute phone call, many kids at this age may not be. Prepare your child for things that you know may be tricky for him, avoid situations where failure is inevitable and brainstorm ideas in advance as to what will help him persevere through difficult parts of his day that are just unavoidable.
  4. Give Her Responsibilities. By asking your child to contribute to the household in manageable and realistic ways, you send a message that she has valuable contributions to make and that you trust in her ability to   participate in meaningful ways. Choose tasks that she is already drawn to and has demonstrated an ability to complete successfully. Don’t worry about perfection and refrain from intervening too much to reinforce the message of trust.
At Intuition Wellness Center we specialize in integrated behavioral health services and wellness programs for children, young adults and families and supporting other like-minded professionals in doing good work. We offer parent education seminarswellness 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.

Written by: Brandy Baker, PsyD, Clinical Psychologist

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