Do you ever hear your child saying "I'll never be able to.." or "I can't" or your partner saying "what's the point, it will always be this way?” Or, do you ever find that you say to yourself something along the lines of, "it's too late for me to …” Fortunately, research shows that our brains are plastic and continue to grow and change regardless of age. This is the concept of the “Growth Mindset.” According to Carol Dweck, “Growth Mindset” people believe that “their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work—brains and talent are just the starting point. This view creates a love of learning and a resilience that is essential for great accomplishment,” (2015).
Children and adolescents sometimes have great difficulty in moving from a “fixed” mindset to that of “growth”. Their ability to be patient with themselves, tackle an issue with resilience, or shifting their perspective to one of growth and forward-thinking is challenging. That challenge is valid, and it’s important to first acknowledge how hard it is to overcome failures and flexibly adapt to changing circumstances. Luckily, you, as parents, can model that flexibility! Here’s how:
Be mindful. Try your best to pay attention to the nature of your own thoughts and your emotions. Children are observant and will often copy and internalize our phrasing and what we say. It’s important to be mindful of how we’re coming across to others; what we’re saying, how we’re saying it, and our overall attitude and approach to things.
“Name it to tame it”: Oftentimes, the simple acknowledgement of what the actual thought is, and naming the emotion, dwindles its power. It can be fun and empowering to watch the intensity wash away. Teaching kids to name their emotions can help them be easier on themselves and feel more in control. Try visualizing your thoughts and emotions fading away, like smoke escaping a bonfire. You can share imagery techniques with your child, particularly if they are a visual learner.
Reframe your perspective. How do you handle “failures” at work? The aim is to handle those failures or outcomes that didn’t go as initially planned with a positive attitude. Not in a Pollyanna type of way, but in a way that’s indicative that you accept that outcome, and model the idea of acceptance or understanding. What specifically happened? What are the elements that are within your control and how can you remedy moving forward? To effectively reframe, try and catch negative, self-defeating, “fixed” thoughts when they arise, i.e. “I failed at this and it will always be that way”.
To help your child reframe their perspective, use imagery techniques such as “glasses”; if you see or hear your child upset and they’re telling themselves that they’re no good, a failure, and will never “do it right”, try sitting down with them and imagine a pair of glasses that’s shaping the way that they’re viewing the circumstances; try to “tweak” those glasses; maybe they just need a slight tilt, maybe they need to be replaced by a new lens.
Write. It can also be helpful to write down “Growth” mindset statements to strive towards; statements that you and your child can “act as if” you have the mindset. “Growth” mindset statement examples could include: “everyone falls short of their goals and expectations, and that’s okay. I will practice learning and apply those learnings moving forward”.
Stretch. There’s a mind-body connection that should not be overlooked; our emotional state largely depends on our physical wellbeing — maintaining a healthy, balanced diet, getting adequate sleep, and taking medications as prescribed (if applicable) are all very important in optimizing our emotional health. When we stretch our bodies, we can use positive affirmations concurrently; flexible body = flexible mind. “As I stretch my body, I stretch my mind from being closed to being open; from being willful to being willing — willing to embrace life’s challenges and know that I am resilient, I am strong, I am okay just the way I am, right here, in this moment”.
Practice, Practice, Practice. Give these a try and be patient with yourselves! Remember that we are never fixed. Everyday presents new challenges and opportunities to learn, grow and flourish.
What’s exciting about all of this is that with practice, we have the power to shape our current experience and mindset to one that fosters productive learning, growth and openness.