Parenting for Growth Mindset
I was invited to speak with parents of gifted students from a local school district recently. I was reminded of that conversation after another conversation with a parent about his son’s intense drive. One of the difficult conversations I brought up with the gifted parents was about allowing our children to fail and struggle. As parents we want to protect our children from pain. I read an analogy that suggested parents had gone from helicopter parents to lawn mower parents-we remove any obstacles that might slow our kids down. We do this out of fear that if they fail that means we fail as parents. That fear motivates us to do anything we can to ensure success for them. The recent college entrance scam is further evidence of the lengths some parents go to in order to guarantee kids succeed. The reality is though, when we take these actions, we send a crystal clear message to our kids:
#1: we lack confidence they can succeed without our help,
#2-they don’t have to work hard because we will come to their rescue.
A few years ago a young man was in my office because he was struggling. After a few minutes he revealed he wasn’t actually struggling with what was being asked of him, he was intentionally failing because he was scared of what would be asked of him down the road. He admitted his very loving parents had made his life easy. He had never had to work hard and he was realizing that he now lacked the confidence to move forward.
Talking to the parents of gifted children, I challenged them to strongly consider how we view struggle or failure. Do we think it should be avoided at all costs and if so, what does that teach our kids? Possibly the hardest thing is to stand back and watch your child struggle. If we don’t allow that to happen, children lose the opportunity to struggle in a safe manner, to gain confidence when they figure it out. Then they grow up to be adults who lack confidence dealing with adversity.
After my talk was over, a couple stayed back discussing how they both had realized that they each struggled with their own view of failure and trying to protect their daughter from it was causing more distress for them. I encouraged them to get curious about it. What am I trying to protect my kid from? What can they learn from working through a challenge? How can a problem teach them something valuable?
Practicing this is not easy. I challenge myself daily to consider which struggles are appropriate for my kids. Then when they fail, or experience a setback, I have to remind myself that attributing that failure to external factors or ‘bad luck’ does not help them take responsibility.
If you’re interested in learning more about how our mindset impacts hard work and effort, check out Carol Dweck’s Ted Talk, https://www.ted.com/talks/carol_dweck_the_power_of_believing_that_you_can_improve?language=en, or her book Mindsets.