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Educators and parents want their kids to seek challenges and persist through difficulty—but so often, they don't. It's all too familiar: John always takes the easy way out; Angel gives up at the first sign of difficulty; Anna falls apart when she gets a disappointing grade.
Of course, struggling students are especially vulnerable to helplessness and fear of failure. But even high-performing kids fall prey to test anxiety, or avoid that one subject that fills them with dread. Why does this happen? And what can we do about it?
The sad truth is that many students feel very vulnerable in school. For lots of kids, school is above all a place where they are tested and judged—often publicly—and where they feel inadequate. Sometimes, this vulnerability extends to the home, especially if parents place a very high value on perfect performance or are intolerant of failure. It's not what we intend, but it's what they experience.
The good news is that it's within our power to change this, if we know the keys to creating a risk-tolerant home and classroom culture.
Does what you think about your ability really matter? If you had asked me that question a few years ago, my response would have been, “No, not really.” But over the past two years, I've changed from the negative, stressed-out, perfectionist teenage girl I was my freshman year to the joyful person I am today. Now, my response is much different.
Emerging growth mindset research is generating new insights about human relationships. To what extent do we believe that human characteristics, other than abilities –such as being kind, joyful, smart, courageous or cooperative– are fixed versus changeable? Can each of those qualities be developed, or are they innate? Our answer deeply affect our perceptions and behaviors, which in turn affect the quality of our relationships and our collaboration with others.