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I’ve witnessed a lot in my 16 years of teaching. Lots of toy fads, hairstyles— and even a massive pandemic. But there is one thing that has become more and more apparent to me as a teacher and mother of three young kids. Instead of weighing outcomes and making decisions to solve problems, children are immediately turning to grown-ups for solutions.
When things don’t work out, they simply give up. Even with day-to-day problems, kids shrug their shoulders and wait for someone else to come help. As parents and teachers, we come from a place of protection and love when we rush to their aid. But doing so removes an opportunity for growth! A certain amount of anxiety is healthy, natural and even useful.
Here are five ways you can help your child persevere and take on problems independently.
When children get frustrated, we often hear things like, “I don’t understand this.” or “I can’t do this.” or “This doesn’t make sense.” When we make statements like this, we are announcing that we have given up. Enter the Power of Yet.
When we add this small, three-letter word to the end of our sentences, we tell ourselves that we acknowledge the difficulties we are having and we will keep working on it. “I don’t understand this yet.”
Let kids know their feelings are natural. You will be there as a sounding board while they find solutions. You believe they are brave enough to figure it out! Allow their frustrations to sit for a bit.
Perhaps ask something like, “What do you think you’d like to do about it?”
Sometimes kids get it wrong, and that’s ok. When they truly understand this, they will be more willing to take risks and problem-solve creatively.
Instead of looking at problems as challenges, teach them to see these as opportunities. Each is an opportunity to try, to learn and to grow. Help them get comfortable with the idea of being uncomfortable.
Praise is very powerful. It has the potential to really motivate and guide a child—but it can also be detrimental. Praise that is focused on outcomes and abilities sounds like this: “You’re so smart!” or “You're a natural at this!” This praise creates a fixed mindset.
A fixed mindset focuses on performance—how good or bad we are at something. It leads a child to see their intelligence as unchangeable. They are anxious about failure and won’t try to do things. And so, learning stops.
Growth mindset, on the other hand, stresses effort. When we praise efforts rather than abilities, we help children understand that their brains are elastic. The right actions and behaviors can help them master new skills. So we praise effective effort.
Try to avoid, “you did your best” or “at least you tried.” This sends a message that the child tried and there is nothing more to be done.
Instead try, “How do you think you can go about this next time to be more successful?” or “I liked the strategy you used to solve this!”
Obstacles are not just for kids. Be transparent about moments in your own life where you need to take a deep breath, add the word “yet” or pivot! Make the message clear to our children that we are here to guide them through the process of learning and failure. We will help them take risks and solve problems.
Yonina Lermer is a school consultant, parenting coach, mom to three and author of A Kids Book About Perseverance.
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