Throughout my eight years as an educator, I have conferenced with hundreds of parents. I have sat across from them while they cry, while they worry, while they brag about their child, while they predict their child’s future, and while they set their child up for a life of a fixed mindset.
As an educator and a true believer of mindset being the true indicator of future success. There are two types of mindsets: a fixed mindset and a growth mindset. A fixed mindset individual believes that abilities and aptitudes are inborn and cannot be changed. A growth mindset thinker knows that brain plasticity allows you develop and strengthen current abilities with hardwork and some serious dedication. While people do have natural abilities like singing- for example- it does not mean that people without these natural aptitudes can never improve in that area. The belief that “you can” do something is the first step in being able to it.
6 Things Parents Say about Their Kids that Makes Me Cringe
1. He is just not a math person. I was the same way. I was always a reader.
Well, this comment is two-fold. The fact that this parent believes they were never a math person has obviously stuck with them. They laugh about it now, but it’s obviously changed the trajectory of their adult life. This fixed belief probably affected the career they have chosen. I could predict that their job has very little to do with math and a lot to do with reading and literacy. I think, “What would have been different for this person if someone believed he was a math person? What if he believed he was?”
As for their child, I now understand why this child gives up when they “just don’t get decimals”. Somewhere along the lines, this parent has imparted a fixed mindset on their child. They consciously or unconsciously let their child know that not being good at math is okay. They sent the message that success can happen even without math.
A growth mindset parent would sit down with this child. A growth mindset thinker would ask, “How can I become better at math? What can I do to become faster with multiplication?”
2. My child was upset when you didn’t compliment their work.
When your child came to me and asked me if I liked their story, I responded with, “Do you like it? What do you like most about your story?” I was not trying to ignore your child’s need for praise. I was not trying to be hard on your child. My goal- as a growth mindset teacher- was to divert your child’s need for praise to an opportunity for them to take pride in their work. I wanted your child to think critically about what they created. What would happen if I responded, “That’s amazing”? Your child would walk away knowing that I liked what they did, but what does that really matter? What I like is my opinion, and I do not assign grades based on opinion.
As an adult, we have specific genres we read. We have probably read outside our favorite genre and hated the book; it was too gory; it was too happy; it was too sci-fi. Well, even though you might have not liked the book does not mean it was not well-written. Just because you did not like the storyline does not mean someone else will not.
Praise and feedback are not the same thing. Praise implies that the work is done. Feedback implies that the work has just begun.
3. Practice makes perfect!
Does it? Does practice really make perfect? Was Michael Jordan perfect at the end of his career? No, and I am sure he did not believe that either. Has Yo-Yo Ma reached musical perfection? No, and he does not believe that either. Now, according to many. Yo-Yo Ma has reached musical perfection. I am not saying he is not utterly amazing, but he is still improving. If he did not believe that, he would not practice regularly. He would be complacent with his ability and just perform. Instead, Yo-Yo Ma practices. He physically plays his instrument; he envisions himself playing; he lives his music. That is not someone with a fixed mindset. Yo-Yo Ma is a growth mindset thinker. His ever-improving skill set is proof of that.
4. I see my child’s work hanging in the hallway, and it’s filled with errors/mistakes.
My response, “There are misspellings, some missing capital letters, and the entire piece is one sentence, but did you notice the volume?” I have had parents’ jaws literally almost drop as I cheerily support the imperfect work hanging in the hallways. Parents do not understand why I put their child’s work- for all to see- if it was not manicured to perfection. These parents are fixed mindset thinkers. It seems they are almost ashamed of their child’s effort and current ability. They are more worried about what other people are going to say about their child’s work. They are comparing their child’s work to that of the student next to them. I do not do that. I remember that this child started the school year only writing two sentences at a time. Now, this writing piece is proof that this child can write whole paragraphs.
It takes hard work to reset the way we think. These parents just cannot understand why I am not correcting every word a child writes. Well, if I mark up their paper with red pen, I am doing all the work. That is not what I want as a growth mindset teacher. I want my students to work hard. I want them to be proud of their work. I want students to be able to find their mistakes. What this parent does not know is that their child went through their story seven times before it made its way into the hallway. She found 12 misspelled words, capitalized ten letters, and she almost stopped writing after she filled three lines on her paper. I am proud of this child. I want her parents to be proud of her, too.
5. She has all A’s so we’re not worried about him/her.
I have had parents sit across from me at conferences and they say these exact words. I try to control myself and not physically cringe. What do A’s have to do with the success of your child? Now, teachers become a second set of parents to their students. We spend countless hours with our students and thinking about our students. Their well-being is important to us. When parents come to me and tell me they are not concerned about their child because their report card is filled with A’s or A+’s. These parents do not see what I see. I saw this child break down in hysterics because they earned an A- on an assessment. This child’s first reaction was to ask if this was going to keep them off Honor Roll. I am concerned about this child. I am concerned because she does not know how to use failed attempts as springboards for improvement and success. An A- practically debilitates this child.
This child is a fixed mindset thinker who believes that grades define her ability. This child is upset because her parents are going to find out about her “bad” grade. What these parents do not see is that I am concerned. I am concerned that this young girl did not even look at the questions she answered incorrectly. The grade at the top of the paper was all she saw.
I am trying to instill the growth mindset in their child. I want her to know she can always be better. I want her to know that her value is not determined by a number at the top of a paper.
6. We do not force him/her to continue sports/activities if he/she wants to quit.
I quit the clarinet in 4th grade. I was in the chorus, and I wanted to be in band with my friends too. After just four weeks of “practicing”, I quit. My fingers just did not reach the proper position to hold the notes. I couldn’t remember where the notes were. My parents were not the type who let me quit easily. However, they knew my true talent was singing. To this day I regret quitting an instrument. Ten years ago, I was given a guitar by my parents. I have yet to successfully play anything, but I have not given up on my dream to be able to sing while playing guitar. I never say, “I can’t play guitar.” I say, “I can’t play guitar … yet.”
To the parents who let their children quit, do not let them quit until you understand why they want to quit. If your child is doing an activity that does not bring them any joy, then let them quit. If wrestling is just too aggressive for them, let them stop. But, if they hate that they cannot pin anyone because they are not strong enough, do not let them quit. Help them practice. Give them the tools. Teach them that getting pinned is making them stronger because they are learning what not to do. They can use that knowledge to successfully pin their opponent in the future.
Our success, our abilities, and our aptitudes are all related to our mindset. Our mindset affects what we do, the choices we make, and our belief in ourselves. As Henry Ford said: Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t, you’re right.
Are you a fixed or growth mindset thinker? Do not be discouraged if you have labeled yourself as a fixed mindset thinker; you are just not a growth mindset thinker … yet.