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.
Parenting beyond the ABCs
Although much of the material on Growth Mindset and the Power of Yet (see my previous two posts) focus on children’s academic development, these concepts also inform children’s social and emotional development! To address this, Carlye Nelson-Major, the person who first introduced me to these concepts, and I discussed, at length, three aspects of emotional intelligence, including:
* tolerating anxiety
* acquiring empathy
* exercising forgiveness
Seeing our child suffer anxiety can be incredibly painful (and anxiety provoking) for us. What if we, as parents, viewed our children’s anxiety through a Growth Mindset? In other words, what if we see their anxiety as an opportunity to know what matters to them and learn more about who they are as learners?
From this stance we can tolerate their difficult feelings, reassuring them that they can tolerate them too. Sometimes simply acknowledging their anxiety can help (“I can see you feel anxious.”). Rather than minimizing our child’s feeling of anxiety (“You can do it, no problem!”) or joining with children’s anxiety (“Oh, this is very hard!), being present is enough.* And, when our child needs more from you, Carlye suggests breaking down the task. This may help your child move through the anxiety enough to experience some smaller, but important element of mastery.
Mastery is a cornerstone of self-esteem. However, kids can, at times, become cocky about what they can do easily. As an educator, Carlye knows kids can gain humility and empathy from the mastery. Often, she asks kids “what’s next for you?” thus, re-engaging them in the never-ending process of learning. Additionally, she explains that parents can encourage their child to share an accomplishment by teaching it to a peer. There is nothing more humbling than teaching something new to another person. Through this process, the child gains empathy for others and a deeper appreciation in the power of yet.
When our kids use labels for less than perfect performance (“I can’t do it” and “I am bad”), it is possible that they will develop a harsh self-image and low self-esteem. Rather than allowing them to use binary categories, we can model forgiveness. Carlye explains that we can remind children that their performance is only one point on a long journey of learning and that they are separate from their performance (they may have a “bad” grade but they are not a bad person or a bad student and they are definitely not dumb). From here we can use one (or many) of the four components of Parenting from the Power of Yet (see previous posts). Ultimately, this will lay the groundwork for helping our children to embrace setbacks as learning opportunities.
Applying these principles to social and emotional development, Carlye affirms that all young children, at some point, engage in unkind and nasty behaviors (hitting, biting, teasing, calling names) with other children (particularly siblings) and parents. Rather than penalizing them, she says, it may be important to think about our child as “trying on” or experimenting with this behavior. From a place of forgiveness, we can be curious with them about their behavior (without judging them or ourselves), set limits and expectations, and model how to negotiate difficult relational moments.
Final Thoughts: Every journey begins with a single step
We are all on the journey of growing. In fact, it is quite useful to apply the power of yet to our own growth as parents.
Since learning takes place with practice and persistence, simply reading this blog may not be enough to integrate a Growth Mindset into your parenting. You may need take some risks and try out one or two of the suggested parenting techniques from this or my previous blog entries. If praising your child’s process or trying to tolerate their anxiety doesn’t quiet work the way you hope, it’s ok. In fact, we can apply all the principles of a Growth Mindset and the Power of Yet to our own journey as parents – we can be present in the challenging moments we face ourselves, reflect on what worked or didn’t work and identify future strategies for working with our children.
Finally, Carlye emphasized how important it can be receive support from other parents who embrace parenting from a Growth Mindset. So often we can benefit from being with other parents with whom we feel acceptance and trust. They can be our best safety net, our cheerleaders, our support systems and graciously remind us that we just haven’t figured it all out, YET!
*The author would like to thank Annette Leavy for her insights into conceptualizing and addressing anxiety within the parent/child relationship.