Last year, Nolan came home from kindergarten and said, "I already know everything. I don't need to go back." I knew something had to change. I couldn't allow my five year old to be content with his knowledge base. His father and I have always worked hard to teach and encourage him. Somehow this had turned into him being satisfied where he was, and had no interest in learning more. I couldn't figure out what had caused this mindset, I only knew it had to change.
A friend recommended the book, Mindset, by Carol Dweck. The book has revolutionised not only my parenting mindset, but my own life. She brings up the difference between a growth mindset, and a fixed mindset. How growth-minded people see challenges as opportunities to learn. That they believe all skills can be learned or developed through hard work and effort. Fixed-mindset people believe skills are natural to a person. Challenges present as opportunities to expose flaws. As I listened to her analysis I came to realise we had unintentionally encouraged a fixed mindset in our son.
By encouraging his natural talents, intelligence, and abilities, we thought we were building his self esteem. In some ways, we were. However, by saying things like, "you're so smart," or "wow, you're so good at that," we had shown him that without any effort he'd received the praise he wanted. While we would never want him to feel unaccepted or unloved, this mindset subliminally sent him the message, "you're already perfect."
Sounds great, right? Until school started, I would've agreed that his self esteem was the only factor here. Kindergarten exposed the flaws in my logic as I saw him facing school. He didn't want to learn new things. He didn't want to challenge himself. He didn't want to try. It all went back to his mindset. He was already perfect. Trying new things could prove him to be imperfect, to not know everything, to need to grow. How could we change his mindset without compromising his self-confidence?
The awesome news was that it came down to a simple adjustment in the WAY we compliment and encourage him. Instead of saying, "you're so smart," we started saying, "wow, you must've worked so hard to learn that." When he would brag about something being easy we would say, "bummer, we can't learn anything new if things are too easy." When he complained about something being too hard we would say, "it's ok to make mistakes. That's how we learn and grow." These adjustments and conversations with him to encourage effort instead of talent has, over time, changed the way he sees challenges.
I am by no means perfect, and this is a process. Now in 1st grade, Nolan is doing awesome. He makes mistakes, he gets tired, and from time to time he takes the easy road. He also excitedly tells me about what he learns from his mistakes. We talk about what he can do different next time to do better. He knows I don't love him because of what he knows or can do. I love him for who he is. Mine. He has confidence in being mine, accepted wholly. He has let go of the need to be perfect and is embracing the process of growth.
Author: Cassy Dawn
Co-Founder of The Good Curves. A single mom based in Northeast Ohio, she seeks to follow Jesus humbly, raise her son patiently, navigate the dating scene, and help others live happy, healthy lives.