Our sons were told last year that they would be going into a slightly more advanced version of math this year. They get their brilliance from me.
Now that I’ve gotten the braggy part of this post out of the way, let me move on to the important part.
The other day, one of our boys hinted that he was nervous.
“What if I can’t handle it? What if I’m not good enough?”
My biggest fear with my children (because I’ve seen it in myself in the past) is that they will shirk challenging options where they might not excel in exchange for less taxing options and the easy A.
It seems most children our built with this internal “praise system” that rewards the good grade more than the good effort. We as parents and adults can reinforce this problem.
We tell our kids how smart they are. We tell them how naturally gifted they are. They get accolades for hitting the grade. The ones who have it easy in sports or theater or art are tagged as innately talented.
Yet the kids who study, work hard, and don’t necessarily easily hit the mark… they get tagged as ‘strugglers’. They just don’t have it. It’s just they way they are.
When ‘smart kids’ get praised for performance with the ‘you’re smart’ comments, there’s potential for them to see their smartness as something that was bequeathed to them at birth.
I’m not sure how it all works, but the issue is that they could possibly begin to believe that they have this set resource of ‘smartness’. It’s a finite thing. It’s a predetermined amount. Don’t put yourself in a position to test the limits of it because that will drive those ill-feelings of ‘I’m just not smart enough. I can’t do it. I’m not awesome. That person is so much better than I. I wish I were as good as they. Why do they get to be so good at stuff?’
When our smart kids hit a snag and can’t seem to master the next level (in math, on the basketball court, on the stage, etc.), then these smart, talented, innately gifted kids think they’ve bumped up against the limits of their skills.
They’ve found their boundaries, beyond which they cannot go.
They shrink back. They settle for the thing they know they can do vs. the thing that would be the next step to stretch them and grow them.
The problem is they’ve succumbed to a ‘Fixed Mindset’ vs a ‘Growth Mindset’.
The fixed mindset believes that you are what you are. If you have a hard time with something, it’s not seen as a challenge, it’s seen as a boundary or a limit.
The growth mindset, on the other hand, sees difficulties as challenges to be overcome and problems to be solved. When things get tough, good. It’s time to grow.
I’m about to launch into some wholesale plagiarism. Please click here for the source material. from Carol Dweck, the researcher who uncovered this idea of having a growth vs. fixed mindset. And click here if you want to buy the book.
The first mindset is called the “fixed mindset”. It can lead to “a desire to look smart” and some rough habits over time:
- Avoiding challenges
- Giving up too easily
- Seeing effort as fruitless and a waste
- Ignoring useful negative feedback
- Feeling threatened by the success of others
When we encourage our children based on effort (among other things), we can help instill the desire to learn and these following habits in the face of challenges:
- Embracing challenges
- Persisting in the face of setbacks
- Seeing effort as the path to mastery
- Learning from criticism
- Finding inspiration in the success of others
As school starts back (or anytime, really), I’m encouraged – and I encourage you – to consider how I can work to build a growth mindset into my children (and to be watchful regarding my own mindset).
If we hear statements like, “I just can’t do this” or “It’s just not me” or “I used to be good at ______ but now I just am not,” then we might be hearing clues of a fixed mindset.
I realize I cannot cover the full breadth of this topic in one post. I’m not an expert.
But I’ve seen my children step in both directions at different times. It’s so clear when you see the fixed mindset. It’s also so encouraging when you see them operate out of a growth mindset, working different strategies, sticking with a task, adjusting approaches, pivoting and eventually discovering what works. It’s a powerful thing to watch.
It’s a sad thing to watch when they have those moments where they think that they simply don’t have what it takes and give up way too early.
I encourage you to go back and click on the link over to the website that lays out these ideas very clearly. Do a little digging and see if you find some helpful ideas for you and your kids.