If you asked me which book has had the most profound impact on my parenting style, I would say that, although it does not fall into this category, Mindset by Dr Carol Dweck is.
1) Fixed and Growth Mindset:
In her book, Dr Carol Dweck talks about two types of mindsets:
A #fixedmindset believes that their ability is innate, set in stone. Either you are good at something, or you’re not. In simple terms, such person would think “I’m just (not) good at this”.
With a #growthmindset, you understand that everybody is born with innate ability. However, dedication and practice contribute to improving your skills. Such person takes mistakes and failures as lessons and ways to improve. On this note, I would like to mention Mark Rober’s insightful Ted Talk titled “The Super Mario Effect – How to trick your brain into learning more”. He explains how gamification naturally makes people take failures as lessons, and help them want to carry on with the task until they succeed. My book “The Parents’ Guide to Raising Multi-literate Children” is based on this observation and includes more than 70 activities to foster reading and writing in the home language in a fun way.
It is important to recognise that very often, we might think that in some areas we can improve but in others we cannot, i.e. have a growth mindset regarding some aspects of our lives and a fixed mindset in others. For example, although I believe that with practice we can get better at anything, for a very long time, I was sure that some skills just could not be learnt / improved on, such as the ability to draw. However my eldest helped me see that really ANY skill can be improved on with enough practice. When he was 2 years old, he used to love animals, and he would ask me to draw various ones many times a day: lions, sheep, horse, elephants, fish, and so on. I would probably spend at least 30 minutes a day drawing. And indeed, after a while, I could not deny that my drawings had actually improved!
This is true for me, for you, for your child, for everyone!
Understanding that abilities are not set in stone has had a huge impact on how I view myself and what I can accomplish, but it has also helped watch my words with my own sons so they too recognise that they can achieve anything. On this blog, as I discuss multi-literacy, I will bring this back to #biliteracy and multilingual literacy. However, please keep in mind that the concept of growth mindset and fixed minded can be applied to every skill.
2) “Every Master Was Once a Beginner”.
Learning to read and write is a journey! It takes time to master the skills to become a proficient reader / writer. And whether your child learns to read and write in your language before or after they learn to do so in the school language, they are bound to experience setbacks or feel discouraged by their slow progress.
To get over these hurdles, there is one thing that I have found particularly helpful: Reminding my sons of their past achievements. No matter how old your child is, they have certainly accomplished something, they have necessarily started something that they became good at with practice. Keep a mental note of these accomplishments and remind your child from time to time.
“Every Master Was Once a Beginner”.
My eldest started gymnastics at four. He was the youngest of his group and wanted to quit after only three months saying that everyone was better than him. After a conversation where I explained that others had been practising gymnastics for at least a year longer, that they became better with practice, and that a year later he would be the same, he agreed to carry on for another 3 months. I promised him that if he still did not enjoy it after another 3 months, he would be able to stop. (I realise that 3 months, with only one lesson a week, might be a little short to see noticeable progress. Luckily it was enough, and four years later, he is still practising gymnastics!
This helped me demonstrate to my son that when we keep practising, we inevitably improve. When he wanted to quit swimming, I reminded him of his progress over time in gymnastics. When he was feeling frustrated not to be able to read as fast as he wanted, I reminded him about gymnastics and swimming. Later on, when he wanted to learn to roller skate, and wanted in line skates instead of his “baby fisher Price” ones, as he called them, he decided to prove me that he deserved grown-up in-line roller blades by trying to skate with my adult size ones. When he fell and I tried to stop him, because I was afraid he would injure himself, he told me
“You can’t expect me to be able to skate straight away with them! I have just started. I need a little practice”.
I was so proud of his attitude that I let him. And with determination, and many falls, after only three days he could skate better with MY roller blades than with HIS Fisher Price ones.
Learning to read in French has taken a lot longer than three days (of course!), and Korean is still a “work in progress” but with the right mindset (i.e. knowing that it is normal that he cannot read as well as he would want to, and that with time and practice he will get better), and by making it fun, the journey has been / is overall enjoyable! Of course, there are setbacks, and moments where we end up being less consistent. But that is part of the journey.
The words we use shape our children’s thoughts. In Dr Dweck’s book, you will find a whole chapter for the people who shape our children’s minds: parents and teachers. Let us have at one aspect that really encapsulate the power of words.
We naturally praise our children when they accomplish something. But what are the words we use?
Are we praising their “natural ability” (e.g.: “You’re so clever!”), or “what helped them accomplish the feat” (e.g.: “That was great thinking to use X to help you solve this problem”, “I love how you persevered and did not give up!”)?
With her research team, Dr Dweck has conducted the following experiment with four hundred 5th grade pupils across the United States. The children had to take several tests and were praised in two different ways.
The first test was very easy. Half of the students were praised for their intelligence: “You must be very smart”. The other half was praised for their effort: “You must have worked very hard at this”.
When given the option to take a second test that was either harder or easier, only 33% of the group praised for their intelligence chose the harder version and 92% of the group who was praised for their effort did. Dr Dweck explains this drastic difference by saying that when praised for their intelligence or ability, a child (or adult) thinks: “Oh, you think I’m brilliant and talented. That’s why you admire me – that’s why you value me. I’d better not do anything that will disprove this evaluation”. Consequently, they learn to play it safe, which in turn, limits their growth and their talent. However, by focusing on the strategies they use, the way they are stretching themselves, and taking on hard tasks, they think “If I don’t take on hard things and stick to them, I’m not going to grow”.
After taking a test that the children would surely fail at, the group praised for their effort worked harder, longer, and enjoyed it more. On the other hand, those praised for their intelligence became frustrated and tended to give up early.
The third test was the same as the first one. The overall result of the group praised for their intelligence went DOWN by about 20%, whereas the group praise for the effort went UP by nearly 30%.
This staggering 50% difference proves how much nurturing a “growth mindset” plays a part in a learner’s learning journey. A growth mindset thrives on challenges, and sees failure as an opportunity to learn, stretch its abilities, and grow.
Learning to read and write won’t always be easy (or difficult!) We need to help our children see that their current level of mastery is a starting point, and that the more they practise, the better they get. This is also something WE, parents, need to keep in mind, and have to model.
Our words shape our little ones’ minds. We can help them develop a growth mindset through the type of praise we make. Let’s praise their effort, not their intelligence or ability.