by Kelly Cleeve
Source: Island Parent Magazine
Originally Published: May 2018
Do you know that the greatest predictor of a child’s future success has little to do with their academic ability? Recent research indicates that a child’s beliefs about their ability to learn and think, greatly affects their future. Does your child believe that their talents and intelligence are growing entities? Or do they think that these attributes are blessings that we are simply born with, or without? Inevitably, we all experience challenge at some point in our lives. We have disagreements in our relationships. We struggle with academics. We don’t make the team or get the job that we want. The question is, what do we attribute these failures to?
As a teacher, I have had a front row seat to two very distinct mindsets in children. In the face of challenge, one group has an inner voice that whispers, “I can’t. This is hard. I am not smart enough/fast enough/good enough. I am not enough.” These children see challenge as an obstacle and their natural inclination is to back away, for any potential failure could be a direct reflection of their intelligence. When something is difficult or not going well, they attribute this adversity to skills that they lack. You may hear a child say, “I can’t do this because I am bad at chemistry” or “I am a terrible athlete.” Children who see challenge through a negative lens, are weighed down by a “Fixed Mindset.” They do not see the potential for the possible evolution of their skill set.
The other group of children views challenge as an opportunity. It is a chance to learn, to explore, to experiment and to grow. Their inner voice champions, “This may be difficult, but that is okay. I may not be good at this YET, but I will keep trying.”
If these children fail, they tend to recognize external factors and know that, with increased time and effort, they can and will succeed. They understand that, perhaps they need to study more for the next test, or take better notes in class. Maybe they just need more practice riding that bicycle or working on that slapshot. These children possess a “Growth Mindset.”
It is important to talk with our children about the way we think and learn, for we want them to understand that learning takes time and effort. Our brains are incredible and malleable, capable of growth and change. Intelligence is not fixed, nor are our talents. If children believe that their brains have the ability to grow and that, with practice and perseverance, talents can be nurtured, it could have a tremendous effect on how they view their own potential. If a child believes that they are forever doomed to be bad at drawing or soccer or math, what motivation do they possess to keep working? However, if a child understands that a momentary struggle is an opportunity to learn, chances are, they will be intrinsically motivated to continue their efforts.
Even as adults, we sometimes fall prey to a “Fixed Mindset.” There have been many times when I have lamented my lack of parallel parking skills or knowledge about technology. As parents, however, we should be careful to recognize the gravity of these statements. My oldest son struggles in math. In an effort to be empathetic, I once shared that I am bad at math too and understood his frustration. Though, on the surface, this statement seems well-intentioned and kind, it is laden with underlying messages. In reality, what my son heard me say was that I am almost 40 years old and still bad at math. My empathy actually implied that since I struggled with math for my whole life, he will too. In his 11-year-old mind, he wondered why he should invest so much extra time trying to complete his assignments, if he was destined to fail. What I should have shared with him are positive self-affirmations that I use in times of challenge, or thoughts about effort, practice and attitude.
In my classroom, we often discuss the power of “Yet.” When struggling with a concept, skill or friendship issue, my students are encouraged to add the word “yet” to the end of their sentence. For example, “I am not good at this, yet.” or “I do not understand this, yet.” By adding one simple word, it opens up a whole realm of possibility. The word “yet” reminds students that their skills are still evolving and that they need to keep trying. With practice, with problem solving, with critical and creative thinking, their current struggles can improve.
I encourage you to talk to your kids about the power of “yet” and see how it shifts their mindset. In fact, try using it yourself. I still have a lot of yets in my life. I am not a great cook, yet. My house is not clean, yet. I don’t have enough time or money to travel, yet. With time, effort and a creative plan, I see improvement in my future. It’s a positive outlook, don’t you think?
Kelly Cleeve is a passionate educator with 14 years experience. She is a graduate student at the University of British Columbia, a wife and a mother of 2 beautiful boys.
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