Is your child one that gives up easily? Do they sulk and say “I can’t do it” when things get difficult?
Or is your child brave & resilient, knowing that with the right effort and strategies, she can accomplish anything?
These two very different mindsets start during childhood and follow your child right into adulthood. They are described by Dr Carol Dweck at Stanford University as a Fixed mindset vs a Growth mindset.
People with fixed mindsets believe that their skills and abilities can’t be altered in a significant way, that they are “fixed.” This is the child who believes they just aren’t good at math and that no matter what they do, they never will be. People with fixed mindsets avoid challenges and risks. They don’t put themselves out there for fear of failure or rejection.
People with a growth mindset, on the other hand, view failure as a stepping stone towards success. They believe that with effort, they can always improve their skills and their intelligence.
These are the children who try hard.
People with a growth mindset see difficult tasks as a challenge to be overcome. They approach it with confidence. It’s no surprise that studies show that people with a growth mindset are happier and achieve more in life.
So how can we help our children make this big “mindset change?” It’s not as difficult as you think!
Focus on the PROCESS, not the PRODUCT
“What a beautiful drawing.”
“Look at what you made!”
“What did you paint?”
I think every parent has fallen victim to focusing way too much on the finished product of our child’s work instead of the process and effort that it took for them to make it.
But if you only focus on the end product, your child will start to think that their effort doesn’t matter as long as the end result looks a certain way. This becomes a big problem as your child gets older and tasks become more and more difficult.
From the time your child is very young, start pointing out and focusing on the process and effort behind their work. Instead of saying “I like your painting,” say “I notice you spent a lot of time making these brush strokes over here.”
Praise their effort
Be intentional about praising your child’s effort in the tasks that they accomplish. Point out the time they spent working on a complicated puzzle, or their multiple attempts at reading a difficult paragraph. Praise the way they approached a new problem. Focus on how their effort can lead them to accomplishing their goals.
All of this helps your child understand that it’s more important to try hard than it is to be naturally talented at something.
Point out growth over time
There is nothing more validating for a child than to see how their efforts are paying off.
In addition to praising your child’s effort, also point out how they have grown over time. Say things like “Last week you needed my help to do that puzzle, and now you can do it all by yourself! You were practicing!”
Your child will be so delighted that you have noticed their growth!
Avoid “Good Job”
“Good job” is basically a catch-all phrase that aims to tell a child “I like what you did.” But it doesn’t tell them what you liked about it. It doesn’t even name the helpful or beneficial action at all. And most importantly, it doesn’t point out effort, growth or persistence.
It’s just empty praise. Avoid it like the plague.
(I go into more detail about why you should avoid “Good Job” here in this post!)
Refer to your child as a “problem solver”
Tap into your child’s natural problem solving skills in order to help them develop resilience and a growth mindset. When your child is faced with a dilemma or a challenge, say “I know you are a problem solver. Let’s think about ways that we can solve this problem.”
You can even pretend to strap on your superhero cape before you solve the problem.
The more you build your child up as someone who can handle something difficult, the more they will begin to see themselves in this way as well. The ability to face a challenge with confidence will serve your child well in the future.
Talk through your own struggles
Let your child see you struggle. When you are having a difficult time with something, talk about it out loud. Say “This pasta sauce is so hard to open. I’m going to try another way. That’s not working, I better try something else. I got it! I didn’t give up even though it was hard.”
This may sound absolutely ridiculous, but your child is watching your every move! If you give up as soon as tasks get difficult, your child sees that. Your child needs to see that even though you are a grown-up, things can still be hard for you.
Explicitly teach your child about growth
Spend some time actually teaching your child about what it means to grow. Teach them about how plants and other living things need water and sunlight to grow. Then teach them about what people need to grow.
Talk to your child about how people need food, water, and shelter to help grow our bodies big and strong. But we can also grow in other ways too! We can grow our brain.
We grow our brain by trying hard things, never giving up, and thinking about new ways to solve problems!
After you’ve taught your child the concept of “growing their brain,” you can refer back to it when they are faced with challenges and difficulties.
Add “yet” on the end
This one is so simple, and so important. If your child is struggling with a task and says “I can’t do it,” resist the urge to say “Yes you can.” What you mean to say is that you believe your child can do it if they keep trying. But your child doesn’t understand that. They see your statement as invalidating their struggle with the task they are trying to accomplish.
So instead say “You can’t do it YET, but if you keep working on it you will be able to do it soon.”