Six simple ways to boost your child's resilience and confidence!
How to recognise a fixed mindset and six steps towards resilience!
Yesterday I had a call with a mum who was worried about her five year old's latest outbursts at school. The kindy teacher had contacted her explaining that he was refusing to participate in certain activities and educational games after he realised he was not going to be the winner.
Rather than joining the other children no longer playing and taking a seat on the floor, he began yelling and throwing things. He was absolutely devastated.
The teaching staff contacted the family to discuss support options at home hoping his parents could find a solution to these emotional outbursts so he could continue participating in the classroom games.
While this little man is having a harder time than others, it is a great example of how a fixed mindset can affect a child's overall ability to cope and navigate through life's challenges.
Failing at something is always hard, no matter how old the individual. However, without failure, the brain would never have the opportunity to learn and grow the way it needs to in order to lead a fulfilling, happy life.
Resilient life skills are forged through failure.
Simply put, the brain requires some risk in order to learn. Let's look at toddlers for example. When a young toddler is learning how to walk they fall...a lot. It is through that failure that they learn how to balance their bodies and create movement.
In order to teach your toddler how to walk - all you need to do is stay out of the way, while keeping them as safe as possible. Their brain will do all the work for them.
Like toddlers learning how to walk, we all benefit from a little bit of risk in our lives.
But here is where things get tricky. As we age, we develop risk assessment. The brain's primary role is to keep us safe. It accomplishes this by putting space between us and potential harm. Doing something that is new or intimidating can put us in a state of risk assessment. "Is this worth the discomfort?"
A fixed mindset will answer, "No." and avoid most risky activities (anything that is challenging or unfamiliar). A fixed mindset is fixated on the problem and has a difficult time seeing beyond it towards the solution or benefit.
A growth mindset will experience the same discomfort while still seeing the potential benefits in sticking with it until a solution or, at least, a lesson has been learned.
Foreseeing a positive outcome and navigating obstacles in order to reach it is the result of a growth mindset. Living a fulfilled, productive existence is dependent on this asset.
We all know someone with a fixed mindset.
Someone afraid of risk so they refuse to apply for that management position in the company.
Someone avoiding risk so they never propose to their girlfriend.
Someone terrified of failure so they simply stop planning their life altogether.
Going back to childhood, a fixed mindset may present through:
avoiding games where the child may risk losing,
giving up when something is harder than expected,
over-reacting to small challenges
negative self-talk, "I always mess up. I'm so stupid."
anxiety usually exhibiting as aggression
While some of these behaviours are part of learning and to be expected, if you are noticing an excess of any of these than it may be time to begin focusing your family time on teaching a growth mindset.
Here are a six steps towards raising resilient, happy kids!
1. Making room for risk.
It's natural to want to keep your child safe and secure from any harm. However, without intention, sometimes we can actually get in the way of a child developing an early growth mindset when we anticipate challenges and provide solutions before they have had an opportunity to experience any risk.
Please understand that there is a difference between putting a child in danger and allowing some risk in their life. Following your own discretion, can you think of ways you can gently increase your families room for risk?
2. Praising their effort.
How often do we get caught up celebrating successes rather than attempts? I am definitely guilty of this in my own life. I feel like I should only celebrate something when I have been completely successful! However, this way of thinking can really get in the way of boosting positive thinking and resilience. When we focus on success alone we are missing out on so much opportunity.
Praising efforts as frequently (or even more than!) as we praise successes is a gentle, effective way of boosting any child's drive to ATTEMPT. This is where the magic really begins.
3. Avoiding lectures.
Oops... how often have you heard yourself say this one?
"See what happens? I told you not to jump on the couch!"
Ack! I know! We are all guilty of falling into this trap. Seriously, refraining from saying, "Told you so!!" is so doggone hard sometimes BUT it is so important. You see, the problem with lecturing or scolding is that children can begin to associate shame with their failures.
They may begin to avoid attempting anything risky or new altogether based on the shame they felt in the past when they made a mistake or failed at something. So, bite your tongue mama and let those mistakes slide.
4. Validating big emotions.
Your kiddo is going to experience massive emotions and will inevitably feel out of control at times. This is to be expected (not that that makes it any easier!!).
Sometimes all we can do is validate those emotions. In the heat of the moment, it can be impossible to "fix" everything. For instance, maybe your kiddo lost a beloved toy. It might not be possible to have a magic solution! And, to be honest, magical solutions don't always help your kiddo develop a healthy, growth mindset.
In times like these, simply validate, "I know this is hard for you. How sad that you lost your toy." ...and that's it. No promises to go buy a replacement, no jokes or teases, "It's not THAT big of a deal!" Just stick to validating and allow your child to feel relevant and secure in your understanding and gentle support.
5. Encourage problem solving by asking questions.
Questions and conversations are a great avenue towards teaching your kiddo a growth mindset. The great thing about asking questions is you can use them any time, any place!
Aim to help your kiddo solve simple problems daily by asking more questions in place of giving instructions. A quick example of this is, "What do you need on your head so we can go outside?" versus "Go get your hat."
This simple question places your child in a position to solve a problem on their own and experience the benefits of thinking for themselves. With daily practice, your family will begin to boost self accountability and self esteem through this small change in your interactions.
6. Re-framing your child's point of view on failure.
This is something that only your kiddo can accomplish for themselves, however, we can be their road map. One small way to support their self motivation and resilience is adding "Yet" to their attempts and failures.
"I can't make a goal!"
"You can't make it YET! You'll get there. It took me a year of playing soccer before I made my first goal. It was hard but worth it! Now, I make a lot of goals!"
Stories of our own personal failures and successes are an essential ingredient in teaching children the benefits of a growth mindset. Sharing how we navigate our own big, bubbly emotions can be a reminder that we are all in this challenge called "life" together. We all have our up's and down's but in the end, we are perfect just as we are: imperfect.
Key to remember: We aren't going to get these all perfect all of the time! It's the effort that counts. See what I did there?
What's your favourite tip towards raising resilient children? Did I miss any? I would love to hear how you introduce a growth mindset with your family.
For easy, fun ways to introduce mindfulness into your family time, check out my activity book The Mindful Playbook!
About the author
Stephanie Wicker is a child behaviour expert, parenting educator, counsellor and speaker - who has successfully guided families through early childhood for over 15 years. Through her experience with private consultancy, as a preschool teacher and special needs therapist - she has worked across the many facets of early childhood behaviour.
Stephanie's evidence-based programs are grounded in behaviour science and her passion for Relational Frame Theory (RFT), Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) and developmental psychology all play a big role in her programs.
Stephanie’s experience covers early intensive behaviour intervention programs for children with special needs and for families newly diagnosed. She hosts live training events all over Australia, where she shares her practical solutions and language techniques, along with providing private, in-home therapy sessions for those seeking more personalised support.
Through her company, Simply Kids she provides family resources such as digital books and educational activities, designed to keep behaviour simple.
"By helping parents place emphasis on connection, empowerment and encouragement, I believe that all children have the ability to reach their full potential." - Stephanie Wicker