2020年1月8日 星期三

Teach Your Kids to Fail

Getting comfortable with setbacks will keep them curious and engaged.

Teach Your Kids to Fail

Jackie Ferrentino

I want to tell my children that they are smart all the time. Especially in the first few years of a child’s life, her rapid acquisition of skills and language feels nothing short of miraculous, even though it could not be more mundane. One day, she’s a sentient adorable lump, and an eyeblink later she’s speaking in full sentences. I have a particularly clear memory of watching one of my daughters figure out how to make a Magna-Tile house that would stand up on its own, and thinking: Look at this tiny architectural genius.

But many mainstream publications and decades of research now recommend that we do not tell our children they’re “smart” when they do impressive things, and it feels so counterintutive. When I first heard it, I instinctively bristled. It seemed like just another in a long list of scold-y admonishments from Big Parenting.

As I dug into the research, I was persuaded. It all goes back to something called “growth mindset.” The term was popularized and developed by Carol Dweck, a professor of psychology at Stanford, and it’s the notion that you can change your abilities through effort and strategy. The alternative to a growth mindset is a “fixed mindset” — the idea that your abilities are innate and can’t be changed.

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When we praise our children for being “smart,” based on triumphs — like solving a problem or doing well on a test (or figuring out how to construct a cube with Magna-Tiles), we’re unwittingly encouraging them to believe that if they do poorly or make mistakes, they’re not smart.

And it’s not just what we say about our children’s triumphs that matters — it’s how we tolerate their setbacks. A study that Kyla Haimovitz, Ph.D., co-authored with Dweck in 2016 showed that parents’ “failure mind-sets” affect their children more than their views on intelligence. In other words, if parents think that failure is shameful, their children are more likely to be derailed by mistakes. But it’s subtle. For example, Dr. Haimovitz explained, your child may be struggling with early math concepts and you may say something like, “not everyone needs to be good at numbers,” as a way to comfort them. But what you’re really doing is implying that their math abilities are already set, and unchangeable.

It’s important to note, as Dweck does in this piece for the Harvard Business Review, that “Everyone is actually a mixture of fixed and growth mindsets, and that mixture continually evolves with experience.” No matter what you say or don’t say to your kids, you’re not going to get them to achieve perfect equanimity about every loss — it’s more about getting them more comfortable with failures big and small. Here are tips from Dr. Haimovitz about how to do that.

Ask questions about the process. One way the mainstream has incorporated growth-mindset research has been to praise our kids’ effort rather than their intelligence, but that can miss the mark. As Dr. Haimovitz pointed out to me, if you praise a kid for a school project he dashed off in five minutes, he’ll know your praise is empty. Instead, you can ask him questions about how he did it. You could say, “What an interesting drawing, tell me more about it,” or ask, “how did you solve this problem?” By telling you about his process, your child can give you insight into how he learns and help you know how to praise future efforts.

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Observe them closely. If your child is working on a task at home, watch her to see what behaviors she’s exhibiting that are worth encouraging. For example, if she’s very focused on making jewelry, point out and praise that focus; if she’s asking a lot of good questions about a book you’re reading to her, or reaching out for help when she needs it, you can praise those behaviors as well, Dr. Haimovitz said.

Model persistence. It’s really good for kids to know you make mistakes and how they happen. If you’re chatting over dinner or on the way home from pickup, you can say something like: “I made the wrong decision today, and I felt bad, but I eventually figured out that I was learning from this mistake,” and describe what you learned, or how you strategized a solution. “You don’t have to deny you have negative emotional reactions,” Dr. Haimovitz said. “We, as a society, don’t do that enough because we feel embarrassed when we make mistakes.” But if we highlight our missteps more and explain how we persevered, our children can learn to do the same.

Create safe spaces for learning. Dr. Haimovitz suggested that parents try to create meaningful challenges for their kids — things they’ll have to work at. And then encourage them to make mistakes and talk about them. In our house, that could be a puzzle. I freaking hate puzzles because I think I’m not good at them; I struggle to do puzzles that are age-appropriate for our 3-year-old. So it could be a learning, growing and a failing experience for all four of us.

P.S. Follow us on Instagram @NYTParenting. Join us on Facebook. Find us on Twitter for the latest updates. Read last week’s newsletter about the best parenting writing of 2019.

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