We used to think we were either born clever or born with a lesser intelligence – as if our IQ, or a particular talent we had, was set and we’d succeed or fail based on this innate, “fixed” measure.
NOT SO, says Carol Dweck in her book, “Mindset”. Dweck is a professor of Psychology at Stanford University, who’s exploring groundbreaking research in the area of “Growth” vs. “Fixed” mindsets. Luckily for us, our brain continues to make new connections – if we train it to see things from a new perspective; from the perspective of growth.
Our kids are already in that happy place of being curious sponges. Although, they likely also have the human tendency to make meaning out of situations – and in some cases, the meaning they make may actually be false.
Stay with me… let’s say your little one, full of creative energy and zeal, embarks upon an arts & crafts project with the dregs of the craft cupboard. Their vision is grand. They will make a flying ship with paper towel rolls, pom-poms, pipe cleaners and … a glue stick. Some of you may see this adhesive disaster coming a mile away. This small glue stick just ain’t gonna keep anything stuck!
If you, the parent, come to the rescue with a glue gun then, ta-da, the crisis is averted. But if your child is left to feel the disappointment of their project unfold, they will probably decide one of two things:
- I failed at this and I’m therefore not an artist and should stop trying to take on creative projects (I will leave you to translate this into a four-year-old meltdown on your own.) The meaning they are making is that they are a failure at craft projects based on the OUTCOME. Or worse, that they are a failure at everything! Not true, but you know what they say about perception… This is total discouragement.
OR they could decide:
- Something isn’t quite right with this plan and something may need to be adjusted next time. I’ll try again when the craft cupboard has better glue.
The meaning they are making now, is that this craft project is hard with a mere glue stick. Here they have learned something valuable that they can put into play next time, if and when they choose to make this EFFORT again.
Number 1 above is a classic FIXED mindset, where intelligence and skill are fixed and mistakes need to be hidden to protect an image of perfection. If they can’t do something perfectly the first time, why bother ever trying again? A person with a fixed mindset will stick to the things they know they are good at and will stay away from things they’re not good at. They want to be instant experts.
Number 2 is a GROWTH mindset, where mistakes are embraced, reflected on and learned from. A person with a growth mindset will put the emphasis on hard work and will embrace imperfection.
Imagine the gift of not having to be perfect?! Think what wonderful things we could try and eventually accomplish without the fear of making mistakes? Some of our world’s most fantastic creations have come about as the result of something NOT turning out according to plan. Think penicillin, Velcro, safety glass & Teflon to name just a few.
Here are a few easy ways to give this gift to our kids:
Let your kids make LOTS of mistakes – Mistakes = Learning! Learning is the journey. Success is in having the courage to try; to take that risk even if success isn’t guaranteed. In fact, it’s better if our kids don’t succeed because they will actually LEARN MORE. When we support our kids (instead of rescuing them) they grow far more than if we pave their way.
Hard work pays off – This takes time to discover. In our world of immediate gratification, we can help our kids understand the JOY of hard work by encouraging and celebrating the effort they make. Again, focus on the effort. “You worked so hard on this”, or “That seemed to take a lot of work – and look what you’ve figured out.”
Face setbacks head-on – Making mistakes isn’t all that helpful if we don’t reflect on what happened. Having said that, asking a three-year-old to “reflect on their setback” of tumbling off the jungle gym may be a bit lofty. But, after you kiss the scrape or bump, you could ask, “Huh, what do you think happened there”? or “What did you discover?” and “What would you do differently next time?” Even if they look at you as if you’re bananas, it sets in motion a way of thinking that will GROW with them over time. It’s a way of thinking that happily leads to more curiosity, learning and fulfillment.