How to Use Growth Mindset Language to Foster Grit and Good Character in Kids

The work of Carol Dweck's growth mindset has become very popular in classrooms across the country because her research proves that intelligence is malleable, and with hard work, dedication, and the right mindset, anyone achieve. People with a growth mindset "believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work—brains and talent are just the starting point. This view creates a love of learning and a resilience that is essential for great accomplishment." The opposite of a growth mindset is a fixed mindset, which she defines as "people who believe their basic qualities, like their intelligence or talent, are simply fixed traits. They spend their time documenting their intelligence or talent instead of developing them. They also believe that talent alone creates success—without effort." But, they're wrong, she says.

There is, however, very specific language to develop such a mindset in children, and it all boils down to praising the process, not the person, or using process-based praise instead of person-based praise. Let's say your child got an "A" on their math test. Awesome! A process-based praise would sound like, "I know you studied really hard for that test to be sure you understood the material. It looks like your hard work paid off. Good job!" as opposed to "You're so good at math; you're a math wiz like your dad!". And, as you might have guessed, person-based praise is praising the person. When Johnny scores the winning goal of his basketball game person-based praise would sound like, "You're so good at basketball. You're a natural." as opposed to "Those extra hours you put in practicing your three-point shot really showed today! Way to go!"

Person-based praise, or telling a child he or she is "smart", "amazing", "a natural", or "the best" unfortunately does not produce a child that will grow up to be "smart", "amazing", "a natural" or "the best". According to Dr. Dana Suskind the author of Thirty Million Words, praising a child in this way is actually counterproductive and counterintuitive because when the child inevitably runs into a situation where something doesn't come natural he or she will be more likely to give up, whether is be on a math test or on the basketball court. This type of praise fosters a fixed mindset, the belief that basic qualities, like intelligence or talent, are simply fixed traits that cannot be developed. Dweck's research supports that children who have heard person-based praise have been found to be more likely to give up when things became challenging, and were more likely to lie about achievement in order to appear smarter (Suskind, p. 105). 

images.jpeg

However, when you want to foster a child with good character, one who is kind, empathetic and honest, the exact opposite is true. You want to praise the person, not the process, because you want children to feel like they ARE intrinsically good. For example, if I see my child share her toys I would say, "You ARE such a good friend" as opposed to "It was really nice of you to share your toys." This makes her feel like she is a good person or friend, not that she made the choice to be, and that she has the choice not to be. Adam Grant, the author of the article Raising a Moral Child says, "When our actions become a reflection of our character, we lean more heavily toward the moral and generous choices. Over time it can become a part of us.” (Suskind, p. 125).

In summary, praise the process if you want a gritty child who won't give up. Praise the person if you want to develop a child with good character. I suggest a balance of both so all kids know how to work hard and be nice. 

Bilingual Brains

Bilingual Brains

Living in south Texas, my daughter June has already picked up a lot of Spanish, only referring to water as "aqua" and eggs as "huevos", and today she started at the Mustard Seed Academy, a full Spanish Immersion school. When June was just a baby, I read Thirty Million Words by Dr. Dana Suskind, a research-based book that proves that a child's brain grows 85% in the first three years of life, and a warm, loving positive language environment greatly enhances that growth, which affects life-long learning. In her book TMW, she shares the latest research on bilingualism, and discusses the verbal and non-verbal advantages of children who are bilingual. After reading this research, I knew I had to take advantage of the ubiquity of bilingualism that exists in San Antonio, and luckily for us, the Mustard Seed was just three blocks away.

Read More

Talk to Your Kids About Tragedy

Talk to Your Kids About Tragedy

I am so glad my daughter is only 19 months so that I don't have to talk to her about events like the Manchester bombing... yet. It's only a matter of time. The reality is that terrorist attacks, shootings, and other tragedies will continue to occur in this World. I, for one, am so glad to see experts and organizations coming together to provide resources for us parents, educators and caregivers to know how to talk to our children about these horrible events. 

Read More

How to Raise Kinder Kids, According to the Experts

How to Raise Kinder Kids, According to the Experts

Despite a tough political season, I still have so much hope for our children's future because of the many parents, grandparents, caregivers and educators (from both parties) I have spoken with who are ready to roll up their sleeves, and get busy raising a generation of kids that are kinder, more understanding, accepting and loving. Fortunately for us, there is a growing body of research called behavioral economics that explores the sometimes irrational ways we all make decisions and think about the world. The hope of the researchers, according to Karen Weese, is that maybe if we can understand a little more about the instinctive, irrational quirks of our kids' minds, then we'll be better equipped to raise children to become caring, respectful and responsible adults. According to Adam Grant's article Raising a Moral Child, studies suggest that anywhere from a quarter to more than half of our propensity to be giving and caring is inherited (i.e. nature). That leaves us a lot of room for nurture, for us to use these researched-based recommendations to mold our children's hearts, and encourage their actions. So, let's get started.

Read More

The Rules of Two to Tackle the Terrible, Terrible-Two's

There is nothing I love more than a good tantrum. Seriously. Some people like to watch thunderstorms from their front porch, or cat videos on YouTube. Not me. I love a good ol' fashioned melt-down. (As long as it's not my child, of course.) I was out to lunch with a friend the other day, and she called me out on completely ignoring her to watch this mother daughter duo have it out in the middle of the restaurant. The toddler ran across the dinning room away from her mom twice. It was awesome. I even follow an Instagram account called @assholeparents that is dedicated to posting children having tantrums over ridiculous things like a boy's mom giving him the blue bowl instead of his sister's pink one, or a couple of parents not letting their daughter have birthday presents, when it wasn't her birthday. I highly recommend you follow the account so that us parents can bond over the absurdity of our children. 

And that's exactly the point. Tantrums, more often than not, make no sense, begin out of nowhere and over nothing, and, when met with logical reasoning, only seem to escalate. Last year, when I was working as a behavior interventionist, it was my sole job to understand the tantrums of five and six-year-olds, and to try to prevent their reoccurence. I'll be the first to admit that I had no idea there was so much neuroscience behind tantrums, and I wish I knew then what I have recently learned. In The Whole-Brain Child, authors Daniel Siegel and Tina Bryson do an amazing job of explaining the brain science behind tantrums. The authors write that there are two specific types of tantrums that come from two different regions of the brain, not to be confused with the two different hemispheres of the brain, which are also extremely important to understanding tantrums. I'll explain...

Read More

Teaching Children Tolerance

Disclaimer: This is more of an Op-Ed post, if you will. So far, all of my blog posts have been research-based, but this one is written about my experience of teaching children tolerance, empathy and respect as a behavior intervention and character development teacher. After the worst shooting in U.S. history, I feel compelled to do my little part of spreading love, peace and tolerance to anyone willing to read.

Sunday morning I sat in bed reading the news and watching videos on the mass shooting at an Orlando nightclub that killed 49 men and women, and injured 53 others. I was so sad, and angry; I could literally feel my blood boiling in my body while tears rolled down my face. Luckily, I had been asked attend a prenatal yoga class that afternoon as a sort-of "graduate" to share how practicing yoga helped me in pregnancy, and through the birthing process. Before class started, the mommies-to-be in the room were asked to go around the room, and share how many weeks along they were, and how they were feeling that day. One of the women broke down crying on her mat about the Orlando tragedy, scared of the type of world she is bringing her baby into. We all sat crying, thinking about the pain and suffering of this sometimes scary world until one mom spoke up, and said "you know, it's ok to grieve, and we all should. But, we can also feel empowered, and encouraged that we have the opportunity to raise these children of ours to be the ones that spread love, that show tolerance and respect to others. We get to raise a new generation of people, and I think that's a gift."

Read More

Save Your No's

Two summers ago, my girlfriend Aly and her one-year-old son Gatsby came to visit me. Being in a new place, her son was, of course, exploring everything. As he would get into things in our non-baby proof house I noticed Aly kept saying "Eh, eh, eh." "Gastby, eh, eh, eh!" "eh, eh, buddy!" Finally I had to ask her, "Ok, what's up with all the eh, eh, eh's? Why don't you tell him 'no'?" She said that she had heard it's good to save your no's. I asked her about this recently, after reading about it in the book Thirty Million Words, and she responded "I did that?" "Oh my god. I tell him no all the time now." Yep, sounds about right... Reality trumps the best of intentions.

Read More

Work Hard. Be Nice. How to Evoke Grit and Goodness.

I’m not going to lie… as I say on my about me page, I want my daughter June to be smart. I want her to do well in school, then be showered with academic scholarships to college, have an amazing career, and single-handedly close the gender pay gap… that's all. 

But, unfortunately, her mother (me) isn’t exactly the sharpest crayon in the box. I had to work so hard to graduate college with a GPA that wasn’t laughable, attending office hours daily, studying for weeks for finals, hiring tutors for $20-25 an hour to break down subjects like trigonometry, biology and economics to an elementary level so this twenty-year-old could slide by with a C. I remember getting a whopping 13 out of 30 on my first college test. I called my dad hysterical telling him I don’t know how I got in to college, but I wasn’t cut out for it, and to make room because I'd be moving back into his basement at the end of the semester. Fortunately, I did have a couple things going for me. I was very curious, I had a little bit of social intelligence, and I learned to get through tough situations with a lot of grit and perseverance. Because of these qualities I did graduate college, and didn't move back into my dad's basement... until six years later when I started grad school.

Read More