Childhood is a time of nonstop learning and growth, and these rapid developments bring challenges for parents in the form of toddler tantrums, behavior issues and teenage emotional upsets. There is no map to help easily identify these developmental leaps and address them, but knowing how to have conversations with children and teenagers about their emotions, thoughts and behaviors can help parents to greatly influence the development of skills to manage emotions and work through challenges. Modeling and teaching these skills will ultimately empower the child to live an emotionally healthy, balanced life.
To help children and adolescents identify thoughts, emotions and behaviors, parents need to know and understand the connection between them. The stories we tell ourselves about the facts of our lives impact how we feel. If we change our stories, we can change how we feel. If a thought or emotion is negative, the resulting behavior can be negative as well. For example, if a student thinks he or she is not smart, that might result in sadness, depression, irritability or anger. Then, homework completion falls, attendance may struggle, students may be off-task during school or even get into trouble. As a result, the student’s belief about not being smart is incorrectly reinforced and the student gets stuck in a repeat cycle.
The good news is that a more positive perspective will create an adaptive and resilient approach to the same stressors. According to Carol Dweck in “A Growth Mindset,” the ability to learn and grow is not related to genetically inherited abilities, but rather the amount of time spent practicing and the willingness to be vulnerable and fail.
Dweck reports in her book that we are all born with a natural skill ability, but a growth mindset and time spent practicing will result in greater achievement.
The opposite of a growth mindset is a fixed mindset, or the belief that we can only reach a certain level of achievement in our lives. Those with a fixed mindset are defined by their achievements and they struggle when there is evidence that conflicts with how they see themselves. A normally straight-A student with a fixed mindset who receives an occasional failing grade might think, “Maybe I’m not as smart as I thought.” With this leading thought, self-esteem and confidence can be impacted.
However, a student with a growth mindset will embrace and use failures to their advantage because they have learned that failure is a helpful part of the growth process. So using a growth mindset, a normally straight-A student who receives a failing grade on an assignment might say to themselves, “This grade does not mean that I’m not smart. It means that I didn’t demonstrate that I knew some of the information on that assessment on the specific day when I took it. I need to look back at the assessment to understand what I didn’t get so that I can learn what I didn’t know.”
If parents can model and encourage the growth mindset for their children, it will foster an environment that facilitates learning throughout childhood. The inevitable failures along the way will only serve to encourage new growth and, ultimately, greater resilience.
Sarah Lloyd is a clinically licensed professional counselor and co-founder of the Geneva-based Action Consulting and Therapy. Feedback on this column can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org