Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Teaching kids a learning mindset

My son gives me a hard time when he sees me reading parenting, motivation or any kind of self-help book.Our conversations go something like this:

13YO: "Why do you read books on parenting when you are already a parent?"

Me: "Because I want to get better at it."

13YO: "I think parents should just be themselves and not do what other people think they should do."

Me: "Well, what would you do if you wanted to learn how to do something really well and you knew there were people out there who had more experience then you did? Like what if you wanted to be a better skateboarder? Could you learn from other people who are good at it?"

13YO: (eye roll).

I love reading books that make me think and hopefully make me a better parent, friend, partner, leader, etc. Especially when it comes to parenting. The world is already a challenging place and I feel like one of the best gifts I can give my kids is to teach them tools that will help them thrive and contribute in the world. But I can't teach them something I don't know anything about. In this particular case, I wanted to know why some kids are open to learning and take criticism well and why others are crushed and paralyzed over any negative feedback.

Then a friend of mine recommended Mindset by Carol Dweck, Ph.D. and I have to say, it was fantastic. Here is the excerpt from the back of the book:

World-renowned Standford University psychologist Carol Dweck, in decades of research on achievement and success, has discovered a truly groundbreaking idea - the power of our mindset.

Dweck explains why it's not just our abilities and talent that bring us success - but whether we approach our goals with a fixed or growth mindset. She makes clear why praising our children's intelligence and ability won't foster self-esteem and lead to accomplishment, but may actually jeopardize success. With the right mindset, we can motivate our kids and help them to improve in school, as well as reach our own goals - personal and professional. Dweck reveals what all great parents, teachers, CEO's, and athletes already know, and shows how a simple idea about the brain can create a love of learning and a resilience that is the basis of great accomplishment in every area.

If you have kids, manage people, or are faced with a need to shift your mindset to accommodate an ever-changing work and family landscape, this is a great read. For me, it didn't hurt that the cover endorsement was from one of my favorite tech gurus, Guy Kawasaki.

While her insights and research are relevant to many situations, my focus was on the points about kids. She talked a lot about how we've spent a decade over-praising our kids and now we wonder why their self-esteem is so wrapped up in achievement. We have a generation of kids who think that being good at something is based on innate talent instead of hard work. This fosters a fixed mindset where kids constantly have to defend how smart they are instead of a growth mindset, where they can relax and enjoy the process of learning. Here are a couple of her tips when working with kids to help shift their mindset to one that is growth-based:
  • Praise the amount of effort and hard work they did, not just how fast they accomplished something.
  • Encourage them to try things they like, or are interested in, but that they don't feel they are good at. Teach them that with hard work and effort, they can get better at anything.
  • Ask them questions like "What did you try hard at today?" or "What mistake did you make that taught you something?"
  • Don't let them make excuses for why they didn't win at something. Don't blame the coaches, the weather, or put down the kids who won. That another child worked harder and deserved to win is perfectly valid.
  • Don't be tempted to call them brilliant or smart when something comes easy for them. This can backfire when something requires effort or hard work - they could conclude that they are not smart if it wasn't easy.
  • Don't label your kids (i.e. she's the musician, he's the scientist)
  • Most of all, be aware when you judge your child's achievements as reflections of your success of failure. If they do well, you are a success, if they don't, you fail. This causes us to pressure our kids to do well so WE will feel good and we lose sight of what it teaches them.
These were just a few of the points Dweck made that really inspired me to take a look at how I relate to my kids' achievements. If you want to learn more, I encourage you to read the book!

(Note: I am not affiliated with the publisher or author of this book nor was I compensated for this review. This is just a book I found really helpful and insightful.)


Rusty and Tara said...

Cool book, I'm putting it on my list of books to read (listen to).

Angela said...

I am a firm believer in motivational and inspirational books, and my children question my choices of books as well :) Great post! Thank you for sharing and I will be back for another visit.

Melissa said...

I'm putting it on my hold list at the library right now. Sounds like a great book. Thanks.

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