He had just started walking and was getting the feel of his legs beneath him. Toddling around, chasing our dogs, grabbing at the cat, he was fearless.
Until we took him outside. As I let my son learn to walk around outside, I began to see a pattern. He would fall on the cement, scrape his knees and cry for help. He started becoming scared to walk around because he was afraid of falling.
My son would normally get excited when he knew we were going outside, so I began to get a little frustrated with his sudden change of heart. Like any parent, I started considering why he was acting this way and what I could do to help change his attitude.
I’m one of those over-analyzing parents who tries to get everything right from the start in my parenting endeavors. I wanted to learn as much as I could to help my kids become kind and generous humans who know what it means to work hard and persevere.
Most research will tell you that parents who model and explain their behavior for their children is the best way to teach them. I get that. But I want to help my toddler along now. So, how can I do that?
By teaching him these two powerful words: Try again.
Each time my son fell, his fear grew. I realized that whenever he would start to cry, I’d rush over to help him up and coo over him. I want my son to know that mom is there to meet his needs, but not every need should be met the same way.
Teaching that failing is okay
I want him to know that sometimes trying again is hard and scary, but so worth it in the end. I’ve realized that the tools and traits I sow now, my son will reap as he grows, quicker than I realize.
So how can we help our children become confident in their abilities, brave failure, learn from their struggles, and persevere?
Learning about your child’s mindset
If you haven’t heard of Carol Dweck yet, you might want to check her out. Her recent studies and research on growth mindsets and fixed mindsets has taken the nation by storm the last few years.
Over the course of a couple decades and endless research, Dweck discovered the power of our mindset – how our way of thinking can affect our ability to be confident and succeed in our daily lives. Understanding our mindset can mean all the difference in how your child responds to failure, flaws, struggles, and hard work with perseverance.
What do you look for to know what kind of mindset you’re cultivating in your home?
Fixed mindset vs. growth mindset
Simply put, a fixed mindset assumes our abilities are fixed. They cannot grow or change. People with a fixed mindset typically believe that true success comes from talent. They also believe that their failures define them, thus they tend to hide them. They tend to stick with what they know so they feel confident and place their value on the outcome, regardless of the process.
People with a growth mindset believe that their abilities can grow and be cultivated through hard work. As Dweck states, “brains and talent are just the starting point.” You will find that individuals who lean towards a growth mindset can accept failure instead of hiding from it, and see it as an opportunity to grow and expand themselves.
You might even go so far as to say that individuals with fixed mindsets tend to feel entitled, because they see themselves as talented, not hard working. Conversely, those who cultivate a growth mindset understand the power of hard work and perseverance to “try again.”
How you can promote a growth mindset in your children
Our brain is like a muscle that can grow. The younger you are, the more exercising and growing your brain is capable of. How do you grow your muscles? With practice and exercise.
There’s a fine balance between pushing your child when they don’t want to be pushed and becoming an authoritarian. Parents tend to err on the side of caution and find themselves letting their children quit too soon, before they’ve had a chance try again, and possibly grow.
Instead of only empowering kids to make choices, why not empower them to accept failure and learn from it, if not grow and excel?
Most of us know that, in order to develop skills, we need to practice, practice, practice, and usually practice some more. A young student is struggling to move up in choir. Instead of seeking voice lessons or opportunities to work with the teacher outside of class hours, the student just gives up.
Another student thinks they should be on the varsity team just because they’re a senior. Their thinking is rooted in entitlement, when what they need to do is persevere.
It’s not all about praise
Last year, Dweck observed that many parents and teachers were using growth mindset principles incorrectly. Simply having your child try again without guiding them to the proper tools to improve their efforts and performance will likely not result in a growth mindset.
She claims that it’s not all about praising your child’s effort alone. Parents should offer their children specific and constructive feedback in order to help them succeed with the next try. This doesn’t mean ultimately doing their math homework for them. It means looking at key areas where they are failing and helping them understand the tools to advocate for themselves.
Cultivating a growth mindset takes time
When my son falls or fails at putting his toys back together correctly, I gently encourage him to try again, and model for him when I can.
The first step is encouraging kids to try again. Then show them how to try again. Then let them try and possibly fail, and try again. Then you can guide them to learn from their trying.
Cultivating a growth mindset is hard. It takes time. But it will help your children see growth as a constant state of being.