How to Motivate Kids to Grow And Learn
Most parents want their children to try their hardest, and to put effort into difficult, yet possible, tasks. They want their kids to believe that they can learn anything as long as they put their minds to it.
Parents may think that their own views about intelligence and effort will be passed down to their children. If that’s what tell our kids, then they should believe it too.
In fact, new research from the Association for Psychological Science says that we may be unwittingly affecting our kids’ motivation for learning and perseverance. Not by what parents think, but by how they act.
A More Intelligent View
That’s right, researchers from Stanford have found that parents’ beliefs about intelligence and effort don’t naturally transfer to their children. Kids learn this mindset through a parent’s behavior.
What type of behavior? Specifically, it’s how parents react to failure. Here’s what Kyla Haimovitz – the author of the study – had to say:
“Our findings show that parents can endorse a growth mindset but they might not pass it on to their children unless they have a positive and constructive reaction to their children’s struggles.”
Let’s be honest, we aren’t big on failure.
We don’t write songs about people who have failed. We don’t make movies about the people who work hard, but still don’t win the championship. We never celebrate the companies who fail.
From an early age we associate failing with something that should be avoided. But we also might be missing out on teaching our kids’ a valuable lesson about what failure can teach us.
Reaction to Failure
The scientists asked both children and parents about their views on failure and intelligence. The participants would rate how strongly they agreed with statements like, “Experiencing failure facilitates learning and growth.”
They discovered that there was no association between the parent’s beliefs about intelligence and their child’s. Just because you believe your kids are smart and can learn new skills through the required effort, doesn’t mean your child feels the same way.
So what did affect a child’s belief about intelligence?
The researchers found that a parents attitudes towards their child’s performance affected how their kids viewed intelligence. In fact, stronger negative attitudes towards failure meant the child was more likely to be concerned with their performance instead of actual learning.
So a child’s beliefs about their intelligence comes from how you react to their failures. We often don’t realize how keen children’s observations can be. They pick up on what you do, just as much as what you might say.
Changing Your Reaction
The relationship between beliefs and behavior is worth noting. Often we can say – and believe – one thing, but act completely different. There can be a disconnect, and the same holds true here.
You can’t believe your child is capable of growing and becoming smarter, if you cringe at every mistake they make. The problem occurs because it’s your beliefs about failure that affect how your kids view learning.
Your underlying beliefs affect how you behave. This is what the scientists found to be true in their study.
Parents who showed stronger negative beliefs about failure had more concerns about their child’s actual ability. These parents were also less likely to show support for their child’s learning and improvement.
What can parents do to send the right message?
Kyla from the study gives us a hint:
“It is important for parents, educators, and coaches to know that the growth mindset that sits in their heads may not get through to children unless they use learning-focused practices, like discussing what their children could learn from a failure and how they might improve in the future.”
In short, enforce the idea that making mistakes isn’t a bad thing. Cast mistakes and failure in a more positive light by showing them it’s an opportunity to learn and become better.
It can pinpoint weaknesses, help them focus, and highlight areas where they can improve and overcome future mistakes. And don’t just tell them. Become a part of the process and show them how to turn mistakes into a learning experience.
Why Beliefs about Intelligence Matter
Why does your reaction to your kids’ failures matter? Mostly because it can affect their motivation in learning and applying effort, as well as their overall mindset about growth.
You may have come across the terms growth mindset and fixed mindset in recent years. These terms come from pioneering work done by researcher Carol Dweck, who is also the author of Mindset: The New Psychology of Success.
One of the big takeaways from Carol’s research is that praising a child’s talent and intelligence will often backfire. It can decrease motivation and performance in the long run when they run into obstacles.
These mindsets are also related to how we see failure. Here’s what Carol says about the fixed mindset in her book Mindset:
“Yes, children love praise. And they especially love to be praised for their intelligence and talent. It really does give them a boost, a special glow—but only for the moment.
The minute they hit a snag, their confidence goes out the window and their motivation hits rock bottom. If success means they’re smart, then failure means they’re dumb.”
The new research from Stanford goes one step further. If you want to cultivate a growth mindset in your child, it’s more than just praising their effort on difficult tasks. How you react when a child makes a mistake plays an important role.
Parents who view failure as a negative and harmful, will have children who will believe that intelligence – and skills – is a fixed trait. The more negative your reaction to failure, the more likely a child will value performance over actual learning.
Growth From Failure
Sometimes as a society we place a priority on short term performance over long term growth. Without realizing it our behavior can signal to our kids that failure is a measure of who they are and what they are capable of. Which are in opposition to the characteristics we want to instill in both our children and organizations.
Carol Dweck’s research, and the new research from Stanford, give us a reminder that our behavior should be in line with our verbal messages. That people are capable of growing, learning, and gaining skills to overcome obstacles. This is how we motivate kids to grow and learn.
Failure is only bad if we fail to learn from it. We can’t forget that failure is a natural path to becoming better, more skillful individuals.