Julie Nemeth, Ph.D., is a mother and therapist who lives in Philadelphia with her husband and two sons. As a licensed psychologist, she maintains a private practice in Center City, specializing in fertility issues, pregnancy, and parenting, as well as healing from eating concerns and childhood trauma.
Four Principles of Parenting with the Power of Yet
In her book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, Dr. Carol Dwek talks about parenting from a Growth Mindset (see my last post for a definition of this concept). She devotes almost an entire chapter in her book to this topic and the Internet is full of information – on-line courses, power point presentations, workbooks, videos (a couple great ones by Sesame Street) and books for kids of all ages using the concept of the Growth Mindset.
Knowing that I learn best in dialogue with others, I reviewed many of the websites and then, turned to the person who first introduced me to this concept – Carlye Nelson-Major.
Carlye is a long-time educator and expert in child development. Additionally, she is a mother of two adult children (and a grandmother of three young children). Recently, I had the privilege to discuss with her “the power of yet” and how parents can nurture a Growth Mindset in their children.
Here are some of the many topics we explored along with four essential components of parenting with the power of yet:
1. Explain the Brain. The first step to getting kids to use a Growth Mindset is to help them to understand how learning happens. You can explain, in very basic terms, that behavior activates neurons in our brains. The neurons come together and form a connection. The more we repeat the behavior, the stronger the connection. Although childhood is a uniquely rich time for neurons to join, we build new and more complex neural pathways throughout our life span. By understanding this biological process, practicing the Power of Yet makes sense!
2. Expand your lexicon. Although the word “yet” is both quick and catchy, Carlye invites parents to expand their lexicon of practice. Using Growth Mindset phrases (“Let’s be curious together!”) and questions (“What are three different ways we can approach this?”) can help build a more positive relationship with our kids and it can help them to develop a different approach to learning. Even single Growth Mindset words (such as, struggle, journey, mistakes, persistence, and practice) can encourage kids to see their parents as available and their relationship as a safe place to grow.
3. Praise wisely. “Praise the process, rather than the person,” is about naming the strategies your children use to achieve (asking for help, going over the problem one at a time, calming down when things became confusing). Additionally, it can mean naming the moment the task became hard and what your child did to work through it (“I loved seeing you take a deep breath before trying the math problem again”). This kind of praise fosters hardiness and resiliency because the child can go back to the strategies that work well for success.
Praising the process can also include noticing the child’s efforts (“you took such care in writing the letter “S”). At times this works well. However, Dr. Dweck explains that for children who have not actually achieved progress and success, praising their efforts can feel inauthentic and an attempt to protect them from disappointment.
4. Model mistakes. Sharing our experience of learning from our mistakes is a gift. According to Carlye we can do this with silly, every day, mundane things. Following her wonderful example of peeling a mango, we can say out loud, “I haven’t learned how to cut a mango yet.” In turn, we can talk out loud in front of our children and identify the many ways to go about it – “I could peel off all the skin first or cut into the fruit with the skin still on.” Once deciding a path, it is important to reflect on what did not work and what can be done next time. For example, we can say, “Look at this, peeling off all the skin made it very slippery to hold while cutting. Oh dear, now my hands are covered in mango. Next time I want to figure out how to cut it with the skin on.”
Use Caution When Parenting from the Power of Yet: Avoid the Swoop
The Power of Yet gives our children a vision of the end goal and the hope that they will meet that goal. For example, saying “you do not know how to ride a bike, yet” offers a child the expectation that one day she or he WILL know how to ride a bike. Although we know that there are many steps along the way to learning how to ride a bike, it is easy to “swoop” them all together to focus solely on the end goal. To avoid the swoop, Carlye recommends that parents break down the steps of a new learning experience or task.
For example, often parents hold an unrealistic expectation that their toddlers or pre-school aged children can get through a shopping trip without longing for some sweet treat or toy they see or without melting down in the check-out line. Developmentally, kids of this age are just beginning to learn how to regulate their emotions. Rather than recognizing that their expressions of desire, frustration, and exhaustion are normal and likely, parents often feel angry at and ashamed by their child(ren)’s behaviors, particularly in public. But, by reframing this in terms of the Power of Yet, we can gain perspective: our children have not learned how to express their feelings and needs appropriately in a public setting, YET!
We can help our children (and ourselves) to learn to do this by breaking down the task. First, we can prepare them for what will happen during the shopping trip (“We are going to buy groceries on our list. You can help me put the items in the basket.”). Secondly, we can anticipate how they may feel (bored, frustrated, tired, hungry) and set clear expectations. For example, we can say, “You may see many things you want. You can pick out one small item for yourself.” Additionally, we can caution them, “When I see you are tired or hungry, let’s take a break or have a snack.” Then, following the shopping the trip, the experience can be reviewed. What was the hardest part? What was the easiest? How can we make it better next time?
Secondly, Carlye advocates that we avoid the swoop by moving away from all-or-nothing thinking of good/bad and success/failure and conceptualizing these as existing along a continuum. This means not just celebrating when our child succeeds the desired goal (not having a melt-down in the grocery store), but also honoring the small victories (asking for a snack when feeling hungry). From a Growth Mindset, it is important to acknowledge the disappointments (whining about wanting most of the candies seen in the store) as well as reflect on how it can be different next time. Eventually, small victories add up to big ones!!
The Power of Yet Paradox: Slowing down to move along
Parenting is a dance between meeting our children where they are developmentally and inviting them to move out of their comfort zone. But, what do we do, as parents, when the power of yet leads our child outside their comfort zone?
Drawing from the mindfulness movement, parents can invite children to slow down and reflect upon their internal process. Indeed, Carlye explains that slowing down the process is often when learning can happen. Parents can say to their child when difficulty arises, “You’ve reached a hard part. What do you notice when it is hard like this?” Naming that they are tense in their bodies or feel scared may be enough to move on to an approach or strategy. For example, parents can then add a classic growth mindset question, “Now, what are three different ways to approach this?”
By slowing down, we can let children know that struggling is not something to shy away, but rather to engage. Each time they move through a challenge, they come to trust just a little more that they can do it again. It is hard work but, in Carlye’s words, “this is the work of childhood!”