A few years ago, I was fortunate to come across the book, Mindset, by Dr. Carol Dweck. It sounded familiar and I vaguely recalled a chapter on something similar in Po Bronson’s runaway book, NurtureShock. That book was all over the blog-o-sphere and talked about frequently in my parenting groups.
But, somehow Mindset wasn’t nearly as ubiquitous….until recently. Now, there is a lot of talk about grit, brain science and its importance to overall “success.” Personally, I found the book to be life-changing. Not just for my own children or the children I work with, but for myself.
Before, I never would have let anyone see how I struggled. Now, I think it is imperative to show my kids that learning something new can be hard – even as an adult.
As a first-born perfectionist, I can recall stopping short of many projects because I got stuck, or found it to be too hard, or was afraid to ask for help. This rarely applied to school work. I was mostly a model student, finding the innate praise of spitting back information to be a true reward.
Nowadays, before I stop a project, I ask myself if I am stopping because it’s getting too hard. Have I really given it my all or do I need to farm out the work? Have I really learned everything about that topic – or am I trying to get to a new level and I need to jump off the plateau? Am I ready to give up because I left it for a few days, weeks or months because I am done learning? Or, did it just get too hard and I need to push through this point and strengthen my brain connections?
In college, I dropped classes that I loved because grades were the only thing that mattered. I didn’t pursue my love of French because it was getting really hard – and I thought I wasn’t any good at it. Now, I realize that I didn’t want to fail at anything. It would crack my self-righteous attitude and the carefully created persona that doing well at school had re-affirmed.
In the ensuing years, I have failed many times. Often, I wasn’t ready to learn from those failures, but eventually I did. Changing my mindset has also helped with that. Although I still like to be well-prepared and avoid embarrassment at all costs, I am more willing to admit my mistakes, to apologize and consider another person’s point of view. I realize that my children need to see the mistakes we make – and see them often.
I’ve found this to be especially true with homeschooled children because they do not see frustrated peers on a daily basis. However, I also think it’s good for kids who don’t really struggle in school. If you are always on top, how do you know what to do when you encounter a really tough problem?
That’s why our kids will always see us learning something new. This might be for work, such as computer programming, soldering or learning about circuits. It might be for a personal project – homebrewing for my husband or rekindling a love of French for myself. The journey is not easy and it’s important for our kids to see that. Of course, that doesn’t eliminate the crying and anger that comes from being frustrated, but it does help to move past it.
Above our dining room table, we have a small, handmade poster that asks three questions. A couple of years ago, we referred to it often, but now we have internalized the message. “Did I try my hardest today? Did I keep trying even though I was frustrated? How did I grow my brain today?”