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How to raise kids who don't give up
Erin Stewart writes about trying to create a "growth mindset." - photo by ©

We have a saying in our house that we use whenever one of our daughters gets frustrated or proclaims something is too mentally hard. We say, “What a great chance for your brain to grow!”

This simple phrase is usually enough to encourage our girls to plow ahead with the math problem or the difficult task. Their frustration level usually plummets when we remind them that their brains only grow when they are stretched to their limits.

They don’t give up just because the answer isn’t easy, and they light up when they succeed and exclaim, “Just imagine how much my brain grew!”

So I love an article I read recently about how the brain is like a muscle. It needs to be worked and pushed and stretched just like any other part of your body. And the best way to do that? Try new, hard tasks that require your brain to create new connections.

The article details how children with a “fixed mindset” believe that if they have to work hard, they are not naturally smart. Such kids are often routinely praised for being smart, so they avoid challenging situations that might jeopardize their identity as a “smart kid.”

But children who are routinely praised for attempting challenging things end up with a “growth mindset.” They persist in tough situations and even seek them out because they value learning over appearing smart.

I definitely want my kids to have a growth mindset because life isn’t always going to be easy. Being able to persevere and adapt to new challenges is so much more valuable than appearing smart.

So in our house, my husband and I try to promote this growth mindset in several ways:

  • We praise effort for trying new things, even if the child fails.
  • We avoid general, blanket praise like “You are so smart” or “You are so clever.”
  • We are specific in our praise. Rather than saying, “That is the best rainbow drawing I have ever seen,” we say, “I like the way you ordered the colors in this rainbow. Why did you do it like that?”
Perhaps the most important thing, though, is that we let our children struggle through hard things. As painful as it is to watch my toddler try to get dressed by herself or to watch a second-grader struggle with a math problem, I am doing my kids no favors by stepping in to make life easier for them.

What I can do is remind them why I’m letting them struggle. I tell them things like, “I bet your brain is getting a workout today!” or “I believe you are capable of figuring this out.”

It’s not easy to do that, but I do it because I truly do believe in my children. They deserve my faith and they deserve the chance to let their brains soar. In short, they deserve to be frustrated.

How do you help your kids persevere in difficult tasks?

Erin Stewart is a regular blogger. From stretch marks to the latest news for moms, she discusses it all while her 7-year-old and 3-year-old daughters dive-bomb off the couch behind her.
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