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This article is re-posted with permission from Getting Smart, where it appeared in their Smart Parents series. It was also cross-posted in the Huffington Post Smart Parents Series in partnership with the Nellie Mae Education Foundation.
Many of us want our children to understand that we love them, and to believe that life can be fulfilling. Developing those beliefs will help them prosper. There is another powerful, research-based belief that will help children thrive. It is called a growth mindset.
What is a growth mindset?
Discovered by Stanford Professor Carol Dweck, Ph.D., a growth mindset is the belief that we can develop our abilities, including our intelligence, which is our ability to think. It is distinguished from a fixed mindset, which is the belief that abilities can't change, such as thinking that some people can't improve in math, creativity, writing, relationship-building, leadership, sports, and the like.
"In a growth mindset, you don't always welcome the setback, you were hoping to move forward, but you understand that it's information on how to move forward better next time. It is a challenge that you are determined to surmount. In a fixed mindset, a setback calls your ability into question." -Carol Dweck, 2013 interview
Setbacks are hard. So much so that many people avoid learning anything new, taking exciting risks, or opportunities because of a fear of mistakes or that we might not be "good" at it. We want to spare ourselves from feelings that are unpleasant: embarrassment, failure, clumsiness, disappointment, jealousy. But these very natural and necessary emotions are not something we should avoid or try to keep our children from experiencing. What is more important is teaching our children how to handle these feelings and experiences. If we learn to handle these experiences well, a world of opportunity opens up to us.
Our behavior and ultimately our achievement all stems from our mindset. In a growth mindset, we see intelligence, behaviors, and responses as malleable. When one is in a growth mindset, one is more likely to experience a disappointment or a setback as an event that will teach us something. In a growth mindset, it is easier to reflect about what we learned and consider how to move forward in a productive way rather than wallow in self pity, hide ashamed, or quit...
It’s a label that more and more of our children are living with… Students with Disabilities. More recently, this label has given me great pause. As an educator and as a father of a six-year-old, I feel the term immediately puts a child at a huge disadvantage. Instead of focusing on a child’s abilities and celebrating a child’s gifts, it raises doubt about what a child is able to do and automatically assumes that a child cannot do something. Instead of embracing a growth mindset, it puts all of us in a fixed mindset. So, how can we overcome this?
Looking Beyond the Classroom
If you observe a group of students in a traditional classroom setting, chances are it wouldn’t take you very long to see which students are struggling. Chances are those students have been labeled as learning disabled, and chances are those students have accepted this label, which seems like a permanent tattoo. Yet, when you observe this same group of students in the art room, music room, gymnasium, computer lab, etc., that permanent tattoo seems to magically disappear. Many of the students who were struggling in the “traditional” classroom shine in other subject areas. If only all subject areas were equally valued and rewarded.
4 Things Parents Can Do
“What we’re seeing is something I call ‘Generation Squeeze,’” says Paul Kershaw, Ph.D., referring to a study he published showing that parents of school-aged kids are incredibly stressed.
According to Kershaw, a family policy expert from the University of British Columbia, we parents are “squeezed for time at home, squeezed for income because of the high cost of housing, and squeezed for services like child care that would help [us] balance earning a living with raising a family.”
Sound familiar? When we’re squeezed for all these resources, here’s another thing that gets squeezed: our happiness, and our ability to raise happy children.
This is a special problem for me, being a parenting and happiness expert and all. (I define an “expert” the way the physicist Niels Bohr once did: “a person who has made all the mistakes that can be made in a very narrow field.”)
I love my work—this “happiness expert” thing is a really good gig—but I also strive to not work long hours, as this compromises the “parenting expert” part of things.