One of the biggest opportunities to come from lockdown has been the time available to spend reflecting. And whilst pre lockdown myself and Gemma spent the majority of our time working with and talking to teachers, children and adults in business about their journey for a growth mindset, we have always advocated the huge influence of you the parents in terms of supporting your child's journey. Firstly, in being consistent with the messages being given by schools, especially a school where developing a growth mindset is driving its ethos and secondly, the importance of you creating the start of your own journey in becoming mindset aware. So I decided to write a blog for all you parents out there, to provide food for thought, a starting point, some support, but I hope also, an inspirational message from one parent to another.
If you consider that over a year a child spends about 1,000 waking hours in school compared to 5,000 hours at home, you can understand how a child's identity (whilst influenced by their social groups and school experiences) is largely sculptured by their parents, siblings and family members. Even more so within our current landscape of lockdown, when 100% of a child's experience is currently being influenced within the home. I am sure with the daily home schooling sessions many of you have been left pondering and even overthinking many questions....
Am I doing a good job? Am I doing the right thing?
Am I getting the balance right between home life and school-based experiences?
Will my child be behind in their learning?
And whilst 'yes' academics are important, have you ever wondered if your mindset, therefore your language, actions, behaviours and focuses has had and will be having a much greater impact than any BBC Bitesize lesson or a Twinkl worksheet? If you explore our website you'll find a wealth of information about mindsets, so I don't necessarily want to go into the principles and theory behind fixed and growth mindsets here, but raise your awareness of your influence, as a parent and how, if I had known about Growth Mindset 21 years ago, I admit my parenting would have been very, very different. That is not to say I think my parenting skills were knowingly damaging, but my language (however supportive) and actions, did influence and impact on the mindset of my son, as I placed my identity (my upbringing, life experiences, fears, influences) onto him, therefore unknowingly moulding his fixed mindset triggers.
How does my language as a parent impact on my child's mindset?
Very often when we are advising parents or supporting them through online social media groups, our understanding of what we say to our children can be very different to the interpretation made by them. We know the things we say and do are acted out of love and support for our child/ren, but very often we unknowingly start to build artificial boundaries, which then provide our children with excuses to limit their learning experiences. I am sure you can think of things said to you as a child, that you began to store in your unconscious mind, which eventually became a belief. As we grow older, this results in us saying things, behaving and responding in ways that are influenced by our unconscious bias (quick judgements and assessments of people and situations) into our teens and adult life.
Here are a few examples of how, as parents we say things (out of love) but the interpretation can often be different. Please don't feel I'm being critical of your parenting, I was in your position in 2016, but with any element of change, there needs to be an awareness of what needs to change and why.
One of the most common phrases said to me as a teacher and I am sure I used as a parent is:
"Oh I was never good at maths either!" (or related subject).
By saying this to a child, in front of a child or simply having this belief of your child, you are instantly providing them with a reason why they are not achieving in a certain area. It's genetic! And whilst we say this to often cushion the disappointment our child may be feeling because of a lack of achievement at that point in time, what we are really doing is creating an excuse to not achieve. Inevitably, each subsequent experience your child has in that subject, their fixed mindset dialogue (their thinking voice) will be repeating words like "I'm going to be rubbish at this!", "I'll never learn this" because they begin to believe they are just like you.
I have been introduced to many children by parents and it's gone something like this......
"This is (name) she/he's the smart one" "creative one" "musical one" "shy one" "bossy one" the labels are endless. And yes many of the labels are deemed as positive, can you imagine when a child hears "You're struggling because you're not creative, not good at......" etc. Now imagine for a moment, the child who, from a young age, has been referred to as 'smart or clever'. Firstly, they love the feeling they get when a parent tells them this and often want to recreate that feeling. Their prior experiences and opportunities may well show them to be achieving at a higher level than their peers, or you simply say this to make them feel good about themselves. Then suddenly, that child is faced with a challenge, instantly they become confused as to why they are unable to' just do it' because they've been told they're smart. They don't like the feeling of not being able to achieve, they don't want to lose the 'smart' label and begin to back off, back off from challenge, sticking to what they find easy, backing off from taking a risk and backing off from putting in needed effort, because they associate having to put effort into something if you can't do it - right? I've seen this so many times in children as young as 6 years old.
The other consequence of unintentionally labelling our children, is again those artificial boundaries. If a child sees a label as to what is expected of them, then you can't blame them for being that type of person or only good at certain things, ("I'm the arty one so that's why I'm not good at science") they therefore steer away from other opportunities or experiences.
Part of being a mindset mover as a parent is to take away those limits. An exciting place to be is to unlimit your child, changing the way you behave towards them is the first step, give them space to grow. At the end of the day, that is really what you've always wanted, but often we don't realise we place these limits around them unintentionally to protect them. So rather than creating a preordaned destiny for our children in terms of our expectations or falling into the 'compare and compete' trap lets work together to remove the artificial boundaries and encourage a 'learning is limitless' mindset.
So what can I do to support my child?
It wasn't long for me to recognise that in order to encourage my son to become more growth orientated I had to become more mindset aware of my own thoughts, language and triggers. My constant need for perfection had clearly created fixed triggers for him, in terms of being fearful of making mistakes and seeing feedback as a critism because he too wanted things to be right first time and saw feedback as a me highlighting his deficiencies. To become aware of your unconscious bias is NOT easy and doesn't happen overnight, it's a journey but once you start to become friendly with your fixed mindset you then begin to recognise the reasons behind your child's fixed triggers.
Firstly, don't constantly do things for your child whether it be to speed things up, to make it look 'good' thus trying to avoid an element of judgment from others. Let them be creative in their own way, developing their own skills, being reflective, think independently and allowing them to take responsibility and ownership of their own learning. Yes, be there to encourage and praise their effort, persistance, learning from mistakes but don't take over at the first sign of challenge, failure or struggle, but back off and watch. Watch how they deal with these situations and if their fixed mindset comes out to play think about why they may be reacting this way and be ready to nudge them towards becoming more growth orientated. Share your own experiences of challenge, failure, making mistakes and talk through how you eventually achieved by trying different strategies, seeking feedback, taking a risk and maybe trying new things. Don't let your fears stop your child from exploring for themselves.
Language is the main area were you can begin to think how your child instincitvely reacts and how you respond towards your child's fixed mindset dialogue. Here are some common phrases we've all heard, but how do you respond as a parent? Remember, we want to nudge our children to not only believe they can achieve growth, but to actually achieve it, so they invite themselves to become more growth orientated.
"I'm no good at this!" "I give up" "This is too hard" "I'll never learn this"
"I just can't do it!" "I'll never be that clever" "What's the point?" "It's good enough"
Most of the above are often said to cushion the lack of belief someone has of their ability to achieve and therefore if I say I'm not good at this, when I get it wrong or fail it's no suprise to anyone. Unraveling the reason behind the lack of belief and providing a non judgmental response can help children to become independent thinkers. Here are some suggestions from our lovely friend James Anderson in terms of what we can say as a reponse to initiate becoming mindset movers.
Very often we, as parents need to change our own responses (which is often our unconcious bias) to change the mindset and internal dialogue of our child. But over time (yep, no quick fixes here!) you will step back and watch as your child reacts differently, and embraces challenge, mistakes, feedback and effort as opportunites to grow rather than them perceiving this as them revealing their weaknesses. Don't forget myself and Gemma are here to support you, so please get in touch with any questions or subscribe for our monthly newsletter.
If you love a good read, why don't you check out our other blogs about mindsets.
If you would like to know more about Grow Your Mindset click here.