No matter which school a child goes to or wants to go, an important part of a child’s growing up years is nurturing a growth mindset. A growth mindset is not necessarily a natural skill or something someone is born with. Although some children are born with an innate skill to always look to learn, grow and learn and that is a remarkable quality. We can help to cultivate this way of thinking by providing an atmosphere that is conducive to this process and where a child’s mind can have a vast free playground to have curiosity, imagination and a fearlessness to try new things, uninhibited by the thought of failure.
Failure should be encouraged because a growth mindset thrives in failing and trying again, as many times as possible. It is akin to a child learning to stand. He holds on to things- chairs, tables, sofas- anything his tiny hands can get hold of and tries to stand on his two little feet. He falls and tries again and again, unashamed of the fact that he is falling down or embarrassing himself, oblivious to people looking at him, not caring or giving a thought of what people might be thinking of his feeble attempts, the child perseveres until he can stand up. This can take months and days and is dependent on child to child- there is no competition of whose child can stand up at exactly what month. Then the child begins to walk and the same arduous process is repeated with the same grit until he learns to walk on his own two feet, unaided and now the world is accessible to him, leaving his parents running after him. This is the analogy we need to apply to our children’s learning when they are learning any new thing- whether it is Algebra at school or comprehension that requires them to explore, decipher, extract and quote from a text. There should be an environment of exploration, of trying multiple times without reproach, without eyes that judge and mouths that utter negative speak.
Encourage and praise work
Don’t simply say You are a smart cookie. It is a lame line anyway. Praise your child’s work, That took a long time and a lot of work, Wow! You have put in so much time and work on your drawing. I love it!
‘Why can’t you get it after doing this for three times?’ and similar talk should be kept at bay. Just as when you smile at a child trying to hold on to and stand up and you let him repeat the process with smiles and hugs and kisses, we should let our children keep trying things that don’t come naturally to them. We need to give them time and enough practice without feeling tired or dejected or disappointed. A gifted child is not needed. A child that learns and doesn’t tire of learning and making mistakes is what we should aim for. And although it may be hard to put this into practice, it can be done. Just use the same technique of a child wanting to stand up to your thinking. If you are disappointed that your child is not able to understand Algebra, try a different approach, get a different book, watch videos on various ways and techniques to solve it. Still not working? Try again and again and again and don’t forget the smiles and hugs. The encouragement that children get boosts their confidence and gives them an impetus to try one more time- which could well be a few more times. But then comes what is the aaha moment, the Eureka moment. This moment is not a specific time or a day that shines bright. You will find that the very thing that your child is struggling in now comes easily to him and he doesn’t have to struggle with it anymore. The time he takes to do a Algebra problem or that comprehension exercise is less and he doesn’t make too many mistakes. You have shown him that with patience and encouragement, smiles instead of frowns, he has gone and achieved something which he found impossible to do before. You have shown him that with a little practice, he can succeed at one thing and by extension, he can succeed at many things. You have sown the seeds of the growth mindset. He will now approach problems – and problems are the cornerstone of our lives- with enthusiasm, smiles, an impish, childish, stubbornness to hold on to hope, to techniques, to ask for help and stand up to the problem. He may or may not overcome it but he will try and that is the most important lesson to take away from this.
Start early and go back to past struggles and successes often
Don’t wait until your child has to learn Algebra, although it applies to all stages of life. Start this exercise early, from when a child is learning to stand up and then walk. Start with reading picture books with your child and explore worlds he has never seen, people he has never met and feelings he may not have experienced and introduce him to the wonders of the world, the wonders of learning new things, the wonder of repetition and boredom.
Remember a time when you struggled to learn how to bike without the support wheels. Wasn’t that an exciting thing to learn?
Set the tone, give your child the tools they need
Set the environment where judgements are few, encouragement is aplenty, and the child has a secure feeling where he knows that he can try doing something he finds difficult knowing that he can try and make mistakes until he can get it. A journal I wrote- The 11+ Journal filled with prompts, pages where children can write down how they feel, a page where they can document a task they find difficult, is a great way to do this. You can do this in any journal or make your own. It encourages a child to express what he finds difficult and allows him to write it down. When we write down something, our brains understand it better. Studies have shown that it makes your mind more efficient by helping you focus on the truly important stuff. It helps clear your mind, helps you keep motivated and process your emotions. Writing things down enables a higher level of thinking, and therefore, more focused action. Writing things down develops your sense of gratitude as well, an important tool to live life happily and with satisfaction.
Set the bar high and No, we won’t give up
This is not about meeting a parent’s high expectations. Rather, it is about encouraging an attitude to keep trying. Don’t give up and make sure your child knows that we don’t give up if we can’t get it right the first time. If that were the case, we would be standing on our feet today or walking or having conversations. If we hadn’t tried again and again and again to clear our speech, perfect our standing up or walking- first holding on to things and then without support and then sprinting, we wouldn’t have done all these amazing and natural things. Humans are designed to keep trying and that is something that we should keep reminding our children.
Sabah Hadi is a mum, writer and learning enthusiast. She is the creator of the The 11+ Journal, available on Amazon. It is a book for children, aged 6 to 12, to aid expression and self-regulation. She is also founder of The 11 plus Journey, an educational community with a growing Facebook page and group.