Many things about being a kid today have changed since I was a kid. Parents and teachers no longer employ physical punishments such as hitting with a hand, ruler or object like a belt. So too is gone ear twisting, hair pulling or the other many expressions of physical punishment that were meted out years ago.
When I was a kid, we didn’t sit at the table and participate with adults in conversation the way kids do now and many things were held back from us then as certain topics were taboo. These changes, for the most part are probably positive, one change that is not so positive is the enormous pressure kids are under to be successful at everything every time.
Growing up there were guys that could take apart anything mechanical and fix it and got positive feedback for what were legitimate skills. Others were already working jobs on farms or in stores and were known as hard workers. Some were good athletes which put a spotlight on them and others were good students and were prized for those skills. There were very few or more likely none, who were outstanding at everything they attempted.
I’m not sure that was even an expectation in my younger years. Now, every student or young person must do well at almost everything. There are many well-known examples of people who were failures early on but who later enjoyed outstanding success in their lives.
Michael Jordon wasn’t always the greatest basketball player in the world; Abraham Lincoln lost so many elections that he wasn’t even able to be elected dog catcher in his home town and the musical genius Mozart was not seen as any kind of genius initially. In her book The New Psychology of Success, Professor Carol Dweck explains that “failure is an important part of learning.” Dweck found that there are two possible outcomes from failure, one is that children can become so affected that they become afraid to make further attempts fearing failure or they can realize that failure is part of learning and that these experiences are very valuable. Dweck found that adults around children can heavily affect how they handle success or failure. For example, Dweck warned that parents who frequently tell their kids how smart they are may foster a “fixed mindset and it can backfire.”
Children become strongly invested in intelligence as part of their core identity and when they fail they can become very insecure about their abilities.
“The self-esteem movement almost brained-washed everyone into believing that we can hand our children self-esteem on a platter by telling them they’re great, they’re smart, they’re talented and gifted. It just doesn’t work that way. Actually, those statements often make children more fragile.”
Rather parents should praise children for problem solving skills for the way they approach a difficulty in their lives. Children need praise for effort and the willingness to persist in the face of difficult challenges. Praise for these behaviors can result in a “growth mindset, not a fixed mindset.”
A child who persists with a tough task even if they are failing in the moment can build self-esteem on their own while they’re learning new ways of thinking. Dweck suggests that, “process praise” of children between the ages of 1 and three can predict their mindset and desire for challenge five years later. Dweck also encouraged parents that “this kind of mindset can be encouraged at any age.”
A fixed mindset undoubtedly limits intellectual growth because the fear of failure embedded in this mindset will discourage intellectual risk taking. Heaps of unearned probably won’t make you a resilient and confident person.
For hovering parents, this might be especially good research to consult. Encouraging children to begin to think about the processes associated with problem-solving seems like good, common sense. Talking to children about keeping their fears about failure in check by understanding that they are growing and developing every day and will experience many failures and successes along the way also seems like good common sense.
Remember, all kids count.
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