My Article on Parents Magazine (Extended Version)
Updated: Jul 15, 2021
I'm a Mom and a Mindset Coach: Here's How I'm Raising My Child to Think Positively and Unlock His Full Potential
When we teach growth mindset to our kids, we help them develop resilience. These are five easy ways to promote this strong positive thinking in your family.
One of the glaring lessons we all learned this past year is that life is unpredictable and can throw us off track in a matter of seconds.
No matter how much of a planner you are, you can suddenly find yourself trying to navigate a situation you were completely unprepared to face. And when that time comes, you have to dig deep to find the confidence and courage to push forward instead of letting these disheartening circumstances, or the negative feelings tied to the situation, hold you back from taking action.
I’m a mindset coach, young widow, and mom to a nine-year old son. I strongly believe that when we develop a growth mindset, we build unwavering resilience that helps us overcome all of life’s disruptions—no matter how big or small—with a positive and productive perspective. And when we teach these skills to our children, we can help them develop this same resilience.
Here are some simple exercises and strategies to help your child develop a growth mindset when they encounter challenges, negative emotions, and uncertainty.
1. When Something is Hard
We learn at a young age that life isn’t always smooth sailing. When babies are learning how to walk, they fall down constantly. Trying to figure out the loops of shoe tying can come with a boatload frustration. A new sport, a new subject, a new anything can feel overwhelming. My son avoided learning how to ride a bike for almost two years, because in his mind it was just too hard, so I created a kid-friendly version of a confidence boosting exercise I use with my clients.
I grabbed a piece of paper and drew an X on the left side. Under the X we wrote down a short list of things he used to be unable to do: tying his shoes, writing his name, reading a book. Then I asked him if he could do those things now. He shrugged and gave me a side-eye, unsure of where this was headed. When he answered “yes” for each skill, I drew a smiley face on the right side of the paper opposite that skill.
Then I pointed to the space between the X and the smiley face and asked him, “What did you do in between here and here?”
He said, “I don’t know, I guess I just kept trying…”
I rephrased it: “Okay, so you mean you practiced?”
“Yes”, he answered.
I kept going: “And you would try over and over again, right?”
A smile started to form as he picked up on the direction I was headed with this lesson. For each skill he learned, I drew a dotted line connecting the X and the smiley face to illustrate the journey of working towards a goal.
A visual exercise like this helps children (and adults) see how effort, practice, and repetition lead to results. But more importantly, it gives them a moment to reflect on their hard work and accomplishments, which, in turn, builds their confidence to try again. I wrapped up this lesson by reminding my son of a simple saying we use often in our family: “You can do hard things. If you did it before, you can do it again.” Feel free to take that with you.
2. When Your Child Makes a Mistake
We all make mistakes—period. Unfortunately, in spite of the fact that making mistakes is so very human, making a mistake has long been viewed in a negative light.
It’s time to change that narrative for our children and normalize the reality that accidents, mistakes, and failures can play a significant role in learning. Instead of allowing pessimism to linger, here’s an effective way to teach kids how to bounce back and learn from what’s happened.
It begins with this simple sentence starter: “It’s OK…”
These two gentle words can help diffuse any negative emotions that might arise so you can find a positive next step—together.
We want to help our children shake off any shame so they can think clearly and learn from all their experiences, good and bad. Whether they drop a glass while trying to help with dishes or they miss some directions on their homework and need to redo the assignment—or any number of stumbles that could happen in their daily lives—we should use those mishaps as growth opportunities to reassure our littles that everyone makes mistakes.
After reassuring them that it isn’t the end of the world, work together to find a solution or identify a lesson learned. Be careful to not project your solution onto them. Instead, give them time to discover a positive path on their own; this will help them sharpen their problem-solving skills.
3. When They’re Frustrated
Like most parents, when the pandemic first began in the spring of 2020, I suddenly found myself trying to haphazardly balance the responsibilities of homeschooling and work.
For the most part, my son and I were able to settle into a good routine. His teachers did their best to send instructional videos when a new lesson was being introduced, which was a big help.
But without the normal structure of school hours and being in a classroom, where 20–30 minutes were dedicated to each lesson, I noticed my son was eager to rush through the videos and assignments so he could ride his bike around the neighborhood or make a mud track for his cars in the front yard.
One sunny afternoon he was watching a new math lesson video, and I was hammering away at a proposal that needed to be sent to a client. A few minutes into watching the video, I saw him fiercely erasing and then scribbling his answers, his frustration clearly mounting.
Then came the tears welling up in his eyes. His face flushed red with anger, and eventually he couldn’t hold it in any longer.
Even though I was under enormous pressure to meet this deadline, I saw my little guy crumbling under the weight of his distress. So I told him it was time for a three-step brain break. I explained to him that stress and frustration block our ability to think clearly and taking a few minutes to reset would help him feel better and work better.
Step One—relocate. Physically moving gives us a change of scenery, and stepping away from the task at hand helps our minds start to shift in a different direction so don’t feel stuck. We’d been outside working, so we went inside, and that’s when I gave him the next step…
Step Two—release the frustration. In this scenario, I encouraged my kiddo to scream into a pillow. He hesitated at first, not sure if he should take me seriously, but I explained that screaming into a pillow would help release that negative energy in a healthy way. He threw himself face down on the couch and started yelling his little heart out while I cheered him on, telling him to do it three or four times.
Step Three—rest your mind & body. After getting out all of his frustration, the final step was to lay down and give his brain (and body) a few minutes to rest. I told him to lay on his bed for 15 minutes; he could just chill or, if closing his eyes and taking a quick nap felt right, he should feel free to go with the flow. Twenty minutes later he came downstairs in a totally different mood! He had a confident smile on his face; he was upbeat and ready to try again.
It’s easy to get stuck in frustration and want to give up. We’ve all been there. But a growth mindset helps us feel frustration without letting it get in the way of progress. This little routine— relocate, release, rest—helps teach our children how to process negative emotions in a healthy way, and then try again.
4. When Learning Feels Scary
Whether your child is learning how to tie their shoes, solve a math problem, or fold their laundry, if it doesn’t come easily, or they’re completely uninterested, we shouldn’t be surprised when they want to quickly exit stage left.
While your child is learning something new, remind them that learning is an experience they’ll encounter regularly for the rest of their life. Here are two ideas to bring some fun into learning something new.
One, connect what they’re learning to their personality and interests. For example, if your child is really into sports and they feel overwhelmed by a math problem, incorporate their love for their favorite game into the equation. An example would be, “The Tigers scored 3 goals in 4 games, so how many goals did they score all together?”
For hands-on learners, consider using items they love, like flowers, toy cars, or goldfish crackers, to help make the learning experience more enjoyable.
Second, when it’s not distracting, put on some fun, uplifting music so they can feed off the energy of their favorite jams while learning how to skate, tie their shoes, or how to do new chores. If you’re smiling and dancing with them, it will shift the energy in the room and help them enjoy the experience more.
And, bonus, when they complete the task, celebrate with a fun activity of their choice. You don’t have to attach a reward to their success and effort 100% of the time, but celebrating their perseverance will help them feel better about what they’ve accomplished.
5. It Starts With YOU
This last tip is actually the most important one. The best way to teach your kiddos how to develop a growth mindset is to lead by example. Share your experiences and tell stories of when you overcame challenges, learned from mistakes, and pushed through discomfort.
And if this is a new concept for you, don’t worry, I’m not suggesting you wait until you have enough life experiences to share before you can start helping your kids. Learn together and grow together.
When you’re faced with something hard, boost your confidence by reminding yourself of all the hard times you were able to overcome in the past. If you did it before, you can do it again.
When you make a mistake, don’t be so hard on yourself. Remember, everyone makes mistakes! The growth happens when we learn from them.
When you’re overwhelmed with frustration, take a brain break with the three steps I mentioned earlier. If you want to scream into a pillow, go for it! Other healthy ways to release include jogging or walking, journaling, crying it out, or talking to someone.
And when you’ve stretched beyond your comfort zone trying to learn something new, enjoy the experience instead of succumbing to the pressure to get it right immediately. Struggling isn’t a bad thing; it’s actually a sign that your brain is getting stronger.
A growth mindset helps us, and our kiddos, build our resilience, develop a positive belief system, and persevere when the unexpected happens.
It’s not about being perfect or having a problem-free life. It’s about being mindful of how you respond to life and choosing a positive, productive path forward.
What healthy habits have you learned that you're now passing down to your kiddos? I'd love to hear from you!