Does this sound familiar? “I just CAN’T DO IT!”
So many of our great kids are constantly feeling frustrated as they see other kids easily doing things that are hard for them (going to the swimming pool, climbing the equipment at the playground, writing on the line, playing games at a birthday party, tying their shoes, finding friends in the cafeteria, etc.). This has an emotional toll that can be revealed in many different ways, from avoidance of activities that look challenging to angry outbursts.
As we all know, our emotional state can have a huge impact on the abilities we are able to show. When we’re not in an emotionally regulated state, we are not functioning at our highest capacity! We’ve all been there, but our kids can be in that state all of the time, and when they’re feeling defeated or negative, it can impact their persistence and resilience and thus their ability to change, grow and move forward.
What can we do, as parents and professionals, to support our kids’ emotional regulation? One way is through encouraging a growth mindset. The idea of growth mindset was developed by a Stanford University psychologist Dr. Carol Dweck. At the core, the idea is that when we see our abilities as improvable through effort, motivation and overcoming challenges (versus fixed and unchangeable from birth), this can have an enormous impact on how much we can achieve, as well as our self-esteem. For example, if we think we are either born athletic or not athletic (fixed mindset), then we won’t try to get better at athletics; however, if we see our athletic ability as something that can improve with effort and problem-solving, we will have much greater motivation to learn and achieve, which will lead to greater success. For example, I am fully aware that I will never be as flexible as some people in yoga classes that I take, but I also know that, with determination and effort, my flexibility has and will continue to improve.
So, what are some specific strategies that we can use to support our children?
- We can give praise for a child exerting effort and using problem-solving (“Wow, I just saw how hard you worked to button that button, and how you tried different ways of doing it! That shows me that you’re a problem-solver!”).
- We can give feedback like, “That was a great idea!” when a child makes any choice, in order to support that child feeling like he/she can have ideas and make effective decisions.
- We can reframe situations using the word “tricky” versus “hard”. For some kids, the word “hard” may bring on a fear reaction, thinking of the hurdle as a huge obstacle. The word “tricky” is more neutral and invites wondering, problem solving and possibility.
- We can intentionally model growth-mindset by talking about/ showing our own mistakes and what we learned from them (“Do you remember the first time I made quesadillas? I BURNED them!! But, it was through that experience that I learned how to make them WITHOUT burning them”), reinforcing the importance of failure in learning.
- We can help our kids rephrase statements that reflect a fixed mindset through using the word “yet” (“I can’t do it… YET!”).