When it comes to building resilience and helping kids develop a love of learning that they can carry into their athletic and academic endeavors, a "growth mindset" is what we're looking for!
Stanford University professor Carol Dweck is best known for developing the phrase. Her research into "growth mindset" correlated this outlook with higher rates of success in schools as well as other areas in life, like on the soccer field or at the dance studio. Compared to a "fixed mindset," where the human brain is viewed as set in some way—incapable of expanding or changing in certain ways—a "growth mindset" is one of possibility and the belief that the human brain is constantly flexing, changing and learning new things.
As a parent, this idea encourages the very things we want for our children: a strong belief in themselves, a positive attitude and a resilience that will keep them reaching for new challenges well into their adult years. The great thing is that steps toward nurturing a "growth mindset" start with the things we tell ourselves and our children in the face of learning opportunities, and simple turns of phrase can leave lasting impacts on their success in future endeavors.
Simply start with a phrase like "I can't," "too hard," or "good enough" and turn it into something forward-looking and flexible like one of the seven phrases we've gathered below. The results may astound you and your kids (whether they know it or not)!
"I'll try again!"
Help your child replace the phrase "I can't" with "I'll try again." Saying "I can't" excuses any attempts to try again and doesn't give the brain a chance to be flexible and learn something new. Encouraging more attempts, when time and emotional bandwidth allow, will help your young ones see how flexible and capable their brain is at learning new things even when they are, at first, quite hard! Nothing beats the moment they finally see themselves succeed, and the memory of that will carry them through to new and more difficult tasks. Encourage their effort, and they'll keep trying!
"Mistakes help me learn."
Instead of getting discouraged by mistakes in an effort to achieve something, adopting the phrase "mistakes help me learn" over the standard "I made a mistake," which can carry guilt or embarrassment that shuts down progress, will help your child maintain a keep trying attitude. From missing a goal on the field to receiving a low grade on a school assignment, looking at mistakes as learning opportunities rather than something to be embarrassed of will not only drive their progress toward new heights, but keep their morale high even in the face of potential setbacks.
"I can get better with practice."
We've all said it at some point: "It's too hard." But hearing our children say this out loud hits a bit harder. Whether they're learning a new math concept or learning to ride a bike, we know they can do it, so how can we help them see they're capable? To keep growing and learning, they have to believe in the power of their efforts. Telling themselves something is "too hard" is the fastest route to giving up. So to keep them on track, help them adopt a belief in themselves with the phrase, "I can get better with practice." With that, the next step (rather than the difficulty of the task) becomes the focus, making it easier and more engaging for them to keep trying.
"What can I learn from them?"
Team sports and classroom learning environments are the first time our kids are met with ideas of peer comparison, which if not supported, can manifest themselves unproductively. When met with a situation where your child compares themselves to a peer who they recognize to be superior in some way, a focus on learning can be the most productive for their self-confidence. Helping them to adopt this idea of learning from others will help replace thoughts of "they're better/smarter/stronger than me," with thoughts of admiration that can drive their own growth and keep them progressing as an athlete and a scholar.
"I can always find ways to improve."
When things get busy or frustration builds, it's easy to dismiss something as "good enough" (another thing we've all done!). While this is sometimes important to keep moving forward, it's not necessarily the most productive mentality to drive our daily efforts—especially for our children who are learning a whole world of new things! Helping your child replace "good enough" with a desire to find more ways to improve themselves or their efforts will help them to try their best in all areas, whenever possible. This doesn't mean pushing to a point of perfection, but rather being sure not to rush efforts or leave things half-attempted or incomplete.
"Challenges help me grow!"
It's not uncommon for a child to avoid a task that strikes them as "too challenging." Sometimes it comes from an appropriate assessment of their own limits and can be quite helpful. However, we want to be sure they don't, in turn, adopt a fear of challenges themselves. A fear or dislike of challenges diminishes learning and growth—they have to try hard things to grow and improve! So if you see this developing in your child, help them turn the phrase, "I don't like challenges" to, "Challenges help me grow!" This will give them more opportunities to use some of the other turns of phrase mentioned here like, "I can get better with practice" and, "Mistakes help me learn" that encourage growth and learning much the same!
"Let's try it another way!"
Finally, we've all seen or heard an inspiring athlete or scholarly figurehead mention the importance of never giving up to attribute to their own or others' successes. Using the phrase, "Let's try it another way," is a great way to help your kids turn the "I give up" moment into one that keeps driving them forward toward their goals. The effort doesn't have to happen immediately—taking a break to try something again or in another way is very different than giving up. This all hinges on the belief in themselves and their ability to learn, grow and achieve new heights with all the practice, support and mistakes it takes along the way!
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