As parents, we are faced with the uncomfortable reality that our kids did not learn as much academically in the last year and a half as they would have if Covid-19 had not entered their lives. We are natural “solvers” so instinctually we may equate “challenges” with “problems” that should be avoided. But brain research shows that when we act on fear, negativity, and push perfectionism, we disrupt processing.
Instead, we must adopt a “Growth Mindset,” articulated by both educators and brain researchers like Carol Dweck. The Growth Mindset prepares us as parents to take on our new normal. So, let’s shift our lens into viewing struggle as a positive and exactly what children need to thrive. A proven way to do this is to model the challenges we undertake, showing our kids that the failure we face is not the problem, but the necessary raw material needed to reach a deeper understanding and foster a lifelong love of learning. Here are five ways to foster a Growth Mindset:
Failure is a Winner: Take inventory of inflection points in your life when you have succeeded through failure not despite it and share this with your child. While the NBA and NFL GOATS, Michael Jordan and Tom Brady, are mostly remembered for their quantity of championships, each was fueled by major disappointment–getting cut from a team or being considered weak mentally or physically.
Reflect on Mistakes: Notice and discuss moments where your mistake led you to more fully engage in a task and learn on a deeper level. For example, the other day I felt my answers to my kids’ questions about the U.S. Military pulling out of Afghanistan left them feeling stressed. Will our government get overthrown? Why aren’t we going to help them anymore? While my instinct was to criticize myself, I pivoted to take on the question of “how do we discuss military and police protection with elementary and middle school children as we as a society address police brutality, institutional racism, and U.S. international presence.”
Relish Independence: Feel proud of your child, and yourself, when your child takes a risk. Sometimes highlighting that you value what they have done makes them turn away from needing your direction. Simply observe them and feel deeply in yourself that you value that they have acted courageously.
Parallel Play: Choose a project to complete that you have resisted and share with your child how you are working through it. For example, you could try completing a room decoration job, learn to play an instrument, or develop an exercise practice. Your commitment and struggle allow you to learn next to your child. I find that this parallel play model transforms the learning relationship.
Ask Why: When you find yourself thinking “I should have known that,” take a step back and ask yourself what you are noticing and what you are learning. And pass examples of this on to your child. Students who develop the skill to think about thinking (metacognition) offer themselves the chance to understand on a deeper level. Most contemporary students do not engage well if they can’t answer “why” they are doing something. Those who can build an internal dialogue are empowered.
Kevin Miller is a full-time tutor based in Tarrytown. You can reach him at kevsmilltutoring.com or firstname.lastname@example.org