Nicole M. Young, MSW
As my kids grow older, I’ve become increasingly obsessed with asking myself, “Will they be prepared to live on their own someday?” Deep down, I know they’ll be fine. They will make mistakes, do things I consider irrational or unwise, or just struggle to define who they are and what they believe in. Even though I know my kids will do fine in life, it’s hard not to wonder and worry as a parent. It takes constant effort to adjust my own mindset so I’m preparing my children for independence instead of limiting their opportunities to grow. The constant effort is exhausting, but the end result is rewarding.
This monthly column provides tips for anyone who is helping raise children, based on the world-renowned Triple P — Positive Parenting Program, available to families in Santa Cruz County. If you have a question or idea for a future column, email me at email@example.com.
My daughter is starting 4th grade, and I’ve heard that the amount of homework and the teacher’s expectations will be much higher than in previous years. She struggles to keep up at school, but she keeps trying and always has a good attitude. I’m just worried that as the work gets harder, she’ll get discouraged and will stop trying. Is there anything I can do to prevent that? — Randi
Good question! It makes me think of “growth mindset” — a concept developed by Carol Dweck, a Stanford University psychology professor. People with a “fixed mindset” believe they are born with certain abilities, intelligence and talents, and there’s nothing they can do to change them. Their goal is to always appear smart and capable, which leads them to avoid challenges or give up because they’re afraid of failure.
People with a “growth mindset” believe the brain is like a muscle that grows stronger the more it’s used. They welcome challenges, give their best effort, and are open to learning through feedback. It sounds like your daughter has a growth mindset, which can be continuously nurtured by both you and her teachers. Here are some strategies to try:
Encourage your child to set goals and self-evaluate her progress. Talk with your daughter about something she would like to work on or improve this year. Help her identify a goal that feels both realistic and challenging to achieve. Throughout the year, ask questions that encourage her to reflect on her progress: what strategies she’s tried, what’s working well and what she’ll do differently in the future.
Praise both efforts and achievements. Descriptive praise acknowledges the child’s efforts and ties it to the goal or outcome the child is working toward. This boosts a child’s self-esteem and also reinforces the belief that continuous effort leads to continuous improvements. Examples of descriptive praise include, “You spent a lot of time studying for that test and your score is higher than last time. That’s progress!” or “You did a good job trying different ways to solve this problem and sticking with it until you figured it out.”
Teach your child strategies to solve problems independently. In Triple P, the steps in the problem-solving process are 1) define the problem or issue, 2) brainstorm possible solutions, 3) choose a solution, 4) try it out, and 5) review what worked well and what adjustments are needed for the future. These are steps that children of any age (and adults!) can learn and practice. Parents, caregivers and teachers can help children become independent problem-solvers by gradually reducing the amount of telling — “You should try this next time,” — and increasing the amount of asking — “What will you do next time?”
Set a good example. It’s common for adults to talk about having a growth mindset, but then respond to their own or others’ mistakes and struggles by becoming anxious, overly concerned or controlling. Trust me, I know. One of the best ways for adults to foster a growth mindset in children is to have regular conversations about setting goals, trying new ideas and approaches, making mistakes, trying again and acknowledging accomplishments. It will be even more powerful when children see and hear adults doing this about their own challenges and failures.
FINAL THOUGHTS: Developing a growth mindset is hard work. It’s a lifelong process. Fortunately, positive parenting strategies are valuable tools that help foster a growth mindset, which is one of the greatest gifts that parents can give their children.
Nicole Young is the mother of two children, ages 12 and 16, who also manages Santa Cruz County’s Triple P – Positive Parenting Program, the world’s leading positive parenting program. Scientifically proven, Triple P is made available locally by First 5 Santa Cruz County, the Santa Cruz County Health Services Agency (Mental Health Services Act) and the Santa Cruz County Human Services Department. For more information, including classes and one-on-one meetings to help parents handle everyday parenting challenges, visit http://triplep.first5scc.org, www.facebook.com/triplepscc or www.youtube.com/triplepsantacruzco. To find a Triple P class or practitioner, contact First 5 Santa Cruz County at 465-2217 or firstname.lastname@example.org.