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Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Mindset: How to help your child succeed and fail

In a couple weeks, a colleague and I are giving a keynote address to a group of parents and teachers. Our topic is an area that has fascinated me from the first day I started working with gifted children. Mindset, specifically how learners' self-efficacy influences their ability to take academic risks (or not take).

One of the first behaviors I noticed while working with exceptionally bright children is that many of them are inhibited by fear, the fear of failure. For most of their lives, they have been told by teachers and family "oh, you're so smart". Unbeknownst to the adults, a comment like this can have devastating effects on a child's psyche. The child infers that if he cannot do something easily, people may discover he is not smart. You cannot blame the child. He has been complemented for years on his achievements.

The way to help your child is by not praising achievement, but instead, praise effort. This is something that many people have known, but fail to do. Renowned educational psychologist Carol Dweck has developed these concepts into a book, Mindset. Every coach, teacher, parent and leader should read and internalize this book.

I spend a great deal of time at the beginning of the school year introducing the concepts of growth and fixed mindsets. These two concepts detailed by Dweck can be life changing if one follows the advice. Children and adults alike cannot simply rely on their abilities and talents. To be successful it is critical that failures are not seen as dead ends but as an intersection. One must internalized that failure, whether it be short-lived or reoccurring and know that this is the path to true success. It really comes down to how a person handles failure. Does he move forward, dig deep and analyze lessons learned or does he blame, complain and quit?

I find that the title of one of Carol Dweck's presentations captures the explanation well. It is "The Secret to Raising Smart Kids" Hint: Don't tell your kids that they are". She goes on to explain that the focus should be on effort, not achievement. I strongly believe and see evidence every day of the power of mindset. Our young students need guidance to recognize what each mindset looks like and how to increase their ability to build resiliency skills.

I am including a couple links for information on Mindset. The first is a New York magazine article about Dweck's book Mindset. The second is Carol Dweck's site promoting the book. Pass them along to any "fixed mindset" folks you know



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