All parents want their children to be successful and happy. And it goes without saying that we encourage our kids to always try their best, while doing everything we can to support them. But often, much like adults, children are stressed and worried that they aren’t “good enough.” And these challenges are only compounded as we continue to navigate the coronavirus pandemic.
“Many children are more anxious than ever before,” Lorraine Thomas, Chief Executive of The Parent Coaching Academy, tells Thrive. “We can help them to manage difficult emotions by nurturing a values-based, problem-solving and adventurous spirit and attitude,” says Thomas, the author of books including Super Coach Arty Vs. The Shadow — Taking the Fear Out of Failure.
Parents often assume their kids’ abilities (as well as their own skills) are innate and set in stone. If they’re not “good” at chemistry, they never will be. And if they can’t catch a ball, they will never be athletic. But this just isn’t true. As the science on the subject shows, those assumptions, known as a “fixed mindset” — the belief that you can’t get any smarter than you already are — are incorrect. In fact, parents can help their kids succeed and reduce stress by adopting a growth mindset. Stanford University psychologist Carol Dweck, the architect of the growth mindset and the author of Mindset, has demonstrated that we can all develop our abilities.
According to Thomas, “a growth mindset will equip your children with the resources they will need for life so they can be happy and achieve their potential.” The first step is to encourage kids to view difficulties as opportunities. “Children growing up in a ‘growth mindset’ seek out effective problem-solving strategies and persevere. They enjoy the challenge.”
Read on for ways to create a growth mindset family.
Instead of criticizing children for doing things wrong, Thomas recommends “welcoming their experience of making mistakes.” Encourage them to reflect on what went well, what didn’t, and what they could do differently. “This will help them connect actions with consequences and will teach them patience and responsibility so they can respond positively to frustration and disappointment,” Thomas says.
Choose your words mindfully
Be mindful about the language you use with your family and with yourself. “When your child says, ‘I’ll never be able to tie my shoelaces,’ help them to reframe this mindset. ‘You can’t tie your laces yet.’ It will nurture the idea that at some point in the future — if they work hard at it — they will be able to do it,” says Thomas. “It turns the word impossible into I’m possible.” Also, remind them things that they couldn’t do in the past but can do now.”
Be careful how you praise your kids
Studies show that children who are praised for their intelligence or ability are less motivated and resilient than those who are praised for the process, meaning the effort and hard work. When you say “well done” for persistence, they become engaged learners who are more likely to thrive in the face of difficulty. “Focus on giving your children evidence-based feedback,” says Thomas, “which is much more powerful than flattery.” So, for example, “rather than putting their final, ‘best’ picture on the fridge, hang the ones that came before so that they can see that progress.” It will strengthen the part of the brain that fosters a growth mindset. She suggests using this acronym summing up the qualities that matter: “PACE: Progress, Attitude, Commitment and Enthusiasm.”
“Kids often say things like, ‘I’m terrible at math.’ Draw a distinction between their innate ability to do math and their ability to perform a specific activity,” says Thomas. Focus on what they can learn to do. For example, when working on multiplication, if they say they can’t do their 8 times table, you can say something like: “You’ve been able to learn all the tables up to 7; you have practiced and worked hard. You can do the same with this one.” “Draw a ‘confidence cloud,’” recommends Thomas. “In the cloud write all the tables that they’ve learned so far, helping them to focus on what they’ve accomplished instead of what they feel unable to do.”
Be a great role model
Show your child that you are interested in learning and problem-solving yourself, says Thomas. Talk about some of the difficulties you face and share your ideas with them. “Build challenges into family life,” she advises. “Do you always travel the same way to school? Try a new way.” Suggest your child takes you on a trip and gets you to your destination. “Explain that there’s no right or wrong way,” says Thomas. Another idea: Challenge your kid to a problem-solving treasure hunt.
We can put our kids in the driver’s seat of their own lives, rising to challenges and growing stronger through them, says Thomas. “The world we leave to our children depends on the children we leave in the world.”