Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Raising A Resilient Child

Photo from Trish's personal archives

By Trish Shaffer*

Have you ever met someone who is always positive and sees the glass “half full?” No matter the challenge or adversity, he or she always seems to be able to rise again and succeed. Are these people just lucky? Born with an innate gift of optimism or special genetic trait? Believe it or not, resiliency is a skill, not a gift. The true gift is that we, as parents, can teach our children the skills need to get back up each and every time they fall down by making some simple changes to the words we use and what we praise can help our children have the skills.

First, helping your child develop the outlook that opportunities are skill based, not talent based, is known in the scholarly literature as a “Growth Mindset”. The concept of a Growth Mindset has been made famous by Stanford University professor, Dr. Carol Dweck . Essentially, Dweck identifies there are primarily two types of people; those who have a fixed mindset and those who have a growth mindset.

People in a fixed mindset believe their basic qualities, like intelligence or talent, are simply fixed traits. For example, if you asked a person with a fixed mindset to run a 10k with you in three months, their response might be, “I can’t do that – I’ve never a runner.” If asked to tackle a new challenge professionally that required higher levels of management, “I don’t think I am right for that position. I’m not a natural leader or a type A person”.

Conversely, people with a growth mindset, believe that even their most 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. So, asked the same questions, the answer may be – “You know, I’ve never run a 10k. What does the training schedule look like and when should I start?” or “Taking on higher levels of management will be a new challenge for me. Who has been successful at this in our company and how do I get an appointment with him/her?”

The good news is that we can all go from a fixed to a growth mindset; and even better news for parents is that we are able to foster a growth mindset in children by using some very simple strategies.

First, a very powerful three letter word can change everything for your child. YET. A common scene for parents might be hearing your child struggle with homework, “I can’t do this! It’s too hard.” Help them by rephrasing, “You can’t do this YET, but we will work hard together until you understand it.” You can even start using the word yourself. Just this past weekend, I had the “opportunity” to fix a broken sprinkler head. When my seven year-old son heard me muttering to myself something like, “Oh great! I have no idea even where to begin! I am not handy or a landscaper!” he quickly replied, “Mom! You don’t know how to fix it YET, but I bet you can figure it out.” Such a valuable reminder that little ones often mirror our attitudes, what we say, and how we respond to challenges and adversity. You can see Dr. Dweck explain the power of YET in this video here.

Another powerful, yet relatively simple way to help your child develop a growth mindset is in how and what you praise. When praising our children, most of us say things like “great job!” “Well done on finishing your homework!” or “It is likely is that we attach our praise to an outcome or the end game. “Way to go! You earned an “A” on your test!” “You did great! Congratulations on winning the game!” “You did it! Thank you for cleaning your room!”

What we might not realize is that we are praising the outcome, not the effort. And, by continually praising just the outcome, we are unintentionally setting our kids up for failure.
Think of it like this: If your entire life you are praised for how great you are in a particular area; you begin to identify yourself as being equivalent to that outcome. For example, if you are always the top scholar in your class, and are praised by adults all around for your academic accomplishments, you likely will identify yourself, and get much of your self-esteem from, your ability to achieve academically. It is expected by you and others that you will in the top percent in academics. But, what happens when you are accepted Harvard, amongst peers who are as smart or smarter, and end up in the bottom half of the class at Harvard? Are you a failure?

Children who are not prepared to accept they may not always succeed at first, or have the skills to cope when meeting adversity, may experience irreparable damage, thoughts of suicide, engagement in risky behaviors, or at best, failure to succeed in many aspects of their lives. There are many well-recognized studies on this phenomenon, including Paul Tough’s book, “How Children Succeed.”

To encourage a growth mindset, or to raise children who will get up every time they are knocked down, we need to praise the process, not the outcome. By praising the effort needed, or steps taken, to achieve the outcome, we can help our children understand that it is the effort that results in success. More importantly, give our children the skills to accept and try again when they first do not meet their expectations. Teaching them that when they try and are not met with immediate success, that does not equate to failure, it is a lesson that only informs next moves along the path of achievement. And, when they do succeed, it is not the result of some innate talent, but rather the process that brought them to the success. The effort and steps taken to meet their goals. Watch the video capturing Dr. Dweck’s research on praise.

Our greatest gifts to our children are not ensuring they succeed at everything they attempt or saving to get them into the best school, it is ensuring no matter where their path leads, they have the skills to stand up each and every time they are knocked down.

*From Povi team: we tirelessly make Povi family connect app (link to App store and Google Playavailable to parents, families and friends because we believe that there is nothing more important than cultivating wholesome, happy and successful children. Love to have you signed up as beta users. 

 *Our guest blogger Trish Shaffer is a strong voice and leadership of Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) in the Nevada community. She is a mom of two boys and loves to spend (lots of) time with her family and enjoys all types of outdoor activities. She recently received the Mary Utne O’Brien Award for Excellence in Expanding the Evidence-Based Practice of Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) from the CASEL/NoVo Collaborating Districts at the 2013 CASEL Forum in Chicago. Trish is the Coordinator for Multi-Tiered System of Supports (MTSS) for the Washoe County School District (WCSD).   -

See more at: http://www.tedxuniversityofnevada.org/portfolio-item/trisha-shaffer/#sthash.s7r9dVhA.dpuf

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Thank you very much! Do email me at seowlim@povi.me to catch up anytime!

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