The Power of “Yet”
The other day, I walked into the dining room to find my three-year-old slumped at the table in tears. Puzzled, I asked her what was the matter. “It’s the little ‘d’. I can’t do it,” she sobbed. She had been practicing her letters excitedly for the past week, but had stumbled upon one that she just couldn’t seem to master.
Carol Dweck of Stanford University has coined the term “growth mindset,” ascribed to kids (and adults, for that matter) who view a challenge as an opportunity to grow rather than an obstacle. Compared to their “fixed mindset” peers, kids with a growth mindset are more likely to engage in a challenging task rather than shutting down or running from it, and thus are more likely to be successful in life.
I know, I know. It’s pretty heavy stuff for a three-year-old. But the implications of the growth/fixed mindset are so far-reaching that parents of children of all ages can benefit from a crash course in how to cultivate this more productive, more challenge-ready stance toward goals and difficulties in life. How can you encourage a child who is stuck on “I can’t” to harness the power of “yet”?
Be picky with your praise.
Praising a child is an important part of parenting without a doubt, but some forms of praise contribute more valuably to a growth mindset than others. Praising a child for his/her innate ability (e.g. “You’re so smart”!) demonstrates to him/her that the successful result was due to an innate quality. According to a study published by the American Psychological Association, students who were praised for their effort and perseverance were more likely to continue with a task as it became more challenging than their peers who were praised for being smart. Kids who have been labeled as “smart” become determined to maintain that image, even to the extent that they will shy away from more challenging tasks.
Give value to the struggle.
Take the time to really notice the behaviors and habits your child exhibits when he/she is struggling with something– be it academic, athletic, or hobby-related. Rather than waiting for the result to decide what your response will be, give praise during the struggle. Likewise, be a model of what it looks like to struggle through a difficult task, regardless of the outcome. Think aloud through a challenging task in the presence of your child (a tough workout, a stubborn stain in the carpet, or a steep learning curve on new software for your company).
Most importantly, the next time your child says he/she “can’t” do something, encourage them to add a three-letter word to their sentence that makes all the difference in the world: yet.