Failing at something is always hard, no matter how old we are. However, without failure, the brain would never have the opportunity to learn and grow the way it needs to in order to lead a fulfilling, happy life.
In this blog, Simply Kids founder and child behavioural expert Stephanie Wicker teaches us how to recognise a fixed mindset and offers six simple steps parents can take to build their little one’s resilience!
“Why is my child having such a hard time?”
Yesterday I had a call with a mum who was worried about her 5 year old’s latest outbursts at school. The kindy teacher had contacted her explaining that he was refusing to participate in certain activities and educational games after he realised he was not going to be the winner. Rather than joining the other children no longer playing and taking a seat on the floor, he began yelling and throwing things. He was absolutely devastated.
The teaching staff contacted the family to discuss support options at home, hoping his parents could find a solution to these emotional outbursts so he could continue participating in the classroom games. While this little man is having a harder time than others, it is a great example of how a fixed mindset can affect a child’s overall ability to cope and navigate through life’s challenges.
Resilient life skills are forged through failure.
Simply put, the brain requires some risk in order to learn. Let’s look at toddlers for example. When a young toddler is learning how to walk, they fall… a lot. But it is through that failure that they learn how to balance their bodies and create movement.
In order to teach your toddler how to walk, all you need to do is stay out of the way, while keeping them as safe as possible. Their brain will do all the work for them!
Like toddlers learning how to walk, we all benefit from a little bit of risk in our lives.
But here is where things can get tricky… As we age, we develop risk assessment, as the brain’s primary role is to keep us safe. It accomplishes this by putting space between us and potential harm. Doing something that is new or intimidating can put us in a state of risk assessment – “Is this worth the discomfort?”
- A fixed mindset will answer, “No.” and avoid most risky activities (anything that is challenging or unfamiliar). A fixed mindset is fixated on the problem and has a difficult time seeing beyond it towards the solution or benefit.
- A growth mindset will experience the same discomfort while still seeing the potential benefits in sticking with it until a solution or, at least, a lesson has been learned.
Foreseeing a positive outcome and navigating obstacles in order to reach it is the result of a growth mindset. Living a fulfilled, productive existence is dependent on this asset.
We all know someone with a fixed mindset:
- someone afraid of risk so they refuse to apply for that management position in the company,
- someone avoiding risk so they never propose to their girlfriend, or
- someone terrified of failure so they simply stop planning their life altogether.
Going back to childhood, a fixed mindset may present through:
- avoiding games where the child may risk losing,
- giving up when something is harder than expected,
- over-reacting to small challenges negative self-talk, “I always mess up. I’m so stupid.”
- anxiety usually exhibiting as aggression…
While some of these behaviours are part of learning and to be expected, if you are noticing an excess of any of these than it may be time to begin focusing your family time on teaching a growth mindset.
Here are 6 steps towards raising resilient, happy kids!
1. Make room for risk
It’s natural to want to keep your child safe and secure from any harm. However, without intention, sometimes we can actually get in the way of a child developing an early growth mindset when we anticipate challenges and provide solutions before they have had an opportunity to experience any risk.
2. Praise their efforts
How often do we get caught up celebrating successes rather than attempts? I am definitely guilty of this in my own life. I feel like I should only celebrate something when I have been completely successful! However, this way of thinking can really get in the way of boosting positive thinking and resilience. When we focus on success alone we are missing out on so much opportunity.
Praising efforts as frequently –or even more than– as we praise successes is a gentle, effective way of boosting any child’s drive to ATTEMPT… This is where the magic really begins!
3. Avoid lectures
Oops… How often have you heard yourself say this: “See what happens? I told you not to jump on the couch!” (Ack! I know! We are all guilty of falling into this trap!)
Refraining from saying, “Told you so!” can be so hard sometimes BUT it is also really important. You see, the problem with lecturing or scolding children is that they can begin to associate shame with their failures. They may begin to avoid attempting anything risky or new altogether based on the shame they felt in the past when they made a mistake or failed at something. Sometimes, it might be better to bite your tongue and let those mistakes slide.
4. Validate big emotions
Your little one is going to experience massive emotions which could inevitably feel out of control at times. This is natural and can be expected.
Sometimes all we can do is validate those emotions. In the heat of the moment, it can be impossible to ‘fix’ everything. For instance, if your child lost a beloved toy, it might not be possible to have a magic solution! And, to be honest, magical solutions don’t always help your kid develop a healthy growth mindset.
In times like these, simply validate, “I know this is hard for you… How sad that you lost your toy!” …and that’s it. No promises to go buy a replacement, no jokes or teases, “It’s not THAT big of a deal!” – In this instance, just stick to validating and allow your child to feel relevant and secure in your understanding and gentle support.
5. Encourage problem solving by asking questions
Questions and conversations are a great avenue towards supporting a growth mindset. And the great thing about asking questions is you can use them anytime and anywhere! Aim to help your little one solve simple problems daily by asking more questions instead of giving instructions.
A quick example of this is, “What do you need on your head so we can go outside?” versus “Go get your hat.”
This simple question places your child in a position to solve a problem on their own and experience the benefits of thinking for themselves. With daily practice, your family will begin to boost self accountability and self esteem through this small change in your interactions.
6. Re-frame your child’s point of view on failure
This is something that only your children can accomplish for themselves, however, we parents can act as their road map. One small way to support their self-motivation and resilience is by adding the word “Yet” to their attempts and failures.
“I can’t make a goal!”
“You can’t make it YET! You’ll get there… it took me a year of playing soccer before I made my first goal. It was hard but worth it and now, I make lots of goals!”
Stories of our own personal failures and successes are an essential ingredient in teaching children the benefits of a growth mindset. Sharing how we navigate our own big, bubbly emotions can be a reminder that we are all in this challenge called “life” together. We all have our ups and downs but in the end, we are perfect just as we are: imperfect.
We aren’t going to get these all right all of the time and that’s okay – it’s the effort that counts. Focus on one step at a time until you find your footing. What’s your favourite tip towards raising resilient children? Did I miss any?
Stephanie Wicker is an educator and founder of Simply Kids` in Sydney, with over fifteen years of experience working across various facets of early childhood behaviour. She provides resources and evidence-based programs to empower parents to guide their children through life’s challenges calmly and mindfully.