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.
Written by: Brandy Baker, PsyD
Image Credit: Steven Depolo. via creativecommons.org