Parents and those who work with the kids (well, in fact, all of us), listen up! Psychologist and the author of Mindset: The Psychology of Success Carol S Dweck spent years studying the ways children handled failure and found that those ways played a very important part in how they later in life would deal with challenges. She called those ways mindsets: the growth mindset (when children understand that failure is the only way to grow and that they can develop their abilities and intelligence) and the fixed mindset (the idea that you either have the ability or you don’t and everything you do is a test for how smart you are). Not surprisingly, she found that children who are more likely to fall apart under failure where the ones with the fixed mind set.
For children it is essential to see failure as feedback, information because this is the only way they can develop the necessary skills. When toddlers make their first attempts to walk, they use failure to learn how to make the next attempt even better, to adjust the strategy. I believe we are all like this in the beginning. When we start getting conditioned by parents and the society, we change our attitude to learning and become more result-oriented, taking feedback as a sign of personal failure. Ever heard a grown up say, “I tried to do this but it was hard so I gave up”, be it about new dance moves or a relationship. I sure did! Ever heard your kid say this? If the answer is yes, you might want to rethink how you speak to her/him when you are giving your evaluation of their achievement. Some praise fosters a fixed mindset while other praise fosters a growth mindset. Praising your child’s intelligence backfires and creates a fixed mindset. The children do not want to make a mistake and avoid challenging tasks from which they can learn.
What to do? Instead praise the process, effort, strategy, persisting in the face of obstacles. Research that Carol S Dweck and her colleagues conducted showed that the way in which parents had praised their children age could predict how the same children would address challenges five years later. So next time your kid shows you the drawing she made, hold back your initial response, that might be “Oh, how talented you are!” or “What a beautiful drawing!”, but rather focus on praising the strategy, the use of colors or how the child solved a particular issue in the drawing or how she did not give up. That might help your child develop the growth mindset, teach her enjoy difficulty and keep on going when things get tough. That actually sounds like a good advice for self-evaluation as well!
I imagine it is not easy to rethink the praising and positive labeling strategy when talking to one’s child. After all we have been brain washed by self-confidence boosting strategies which teach us to praise children. However, real self-confidence is something children start cultivating on their own, when they are actually facing the challenges and figure out the ways of dealing with it.
As a parent/teacher/coach, what are your thoughts on the subjects and how have you been giving praise to your child?