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Raising Resilient Kids With a Growth Mindset

Part two of two

Mental health issues are on the rise in our society, among everyone, including tweens and teens. I recently attended an event for parents looking for solutions to these issues that featured Dr. Dan Peters, Ph.D., who is a psychologist, author, co-founder and Executive Director of the Summit Center in Walnut Creek, California. He focused on the need to raise resilient kids. Please click here to read Part One of this article.

Resilient kid
Resilient kids are successful kids!

Facing adversity leads to resilience

As I said in part one, kids need adversity. In other words, they need problems. This may sound crazy, but hear me out. Many parents are tempted to save their kids from every tricky situation. We see parents problem-solving for their children on the playground, calling teachers or coaches to fix issues without the child’s input. Clearly, we have to help them when they are little, but as they get older, we need to help them gain independence and learn to problem-solve for themselves. Those are key skills we need to teach if we want to raise resilient kids. If they are going to grow up to be strong humans, they need to learn to face adversity and overcome it. But how?

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Fix the self-talk

One key skill for learning to overcome adversity is to recognize your beliefs about yourself and then work to change them. You may have heard this idea referred to as “self-talk.” We all have a running commentary going in our head, and we need to recognize it and change it when necessary.

For example, the boy who hates P.E. class might be thinking, “I hate running. All the other kids are faster than me. There’s no point in trying. I’m just going to walk and let the teacher yell at me.”

Or the girl who struggles with schoolwork might be thinking, “I can’t figure this out. I’m so stupid.” Or perhaps, “If I can’t make my writing perfect, there’s no point. I should give up.”

We as parents need to explain to our kids how self-talk affects how we feel and can affect how we act and whether we are able to perform at our best. If we can help them to uncover their negative thoughts, then we can teach them to have more control over their emotions and actions. Talk to your kids to find out what their negative self-talk is telling them. Then, help them to edit those thoughts.

So back to our boy who hates running. He needs to edit his self-talk to be something more like, “Exercising makes me strong. I’m working hard to improve. If I try my best, I will get stronger.” Help him to shift his mindset away from the day-to-day of other kids zooming past him, and instead focus on the importance of lifelong health and the capability of his body to keep going.

And for the girl who is telling herself she isn’t good enough at her schoolwork, maybe she could shift her self-talk to “These concepts are new to me. It will take a while to figure them out.” Or maybe, “My writing has improved since last year. If I keep trying, I will keep improving.”

Sometimes kids need help realizing that their strengths lie in different areas, and it’s okay to have one thing come easier to you than another. So our struggling girl above may need to realize, “Writing a story is hard for me. But if I work at it, I can get it finished. Science comes easier – when I finish writing my story, I get to work on my science experiment.” Or whatever it is for her.

For more on helping your kids be less negative, read my article, How to Help Your Tween and Teen Let Go of Negative Thinking. For tips on how to handle it yourself when your kid is a big grump, read How to Deal with Your Tween’s Bad Moods

GRIT

What we are trying to do here is build grit. Put simply, grit is strength of character. THAT is what you need to grow successful humans. Angela Lee Duckworth, an educational psychologist, did a POWERFUL Ted Talk in 2015 on the subject of grit. In it, she explains the studies she did that proved intelligence and natural talent can only take you so far. It’s perseverance and hard work that leads to success.

“Grit is passion and perseverance for very

long-term goals.”

Angela Lee Duckworth

At the end of her talk, she admits that while science has figured out that kids need grit to be successful, scientists have not yet figured out how we teach that. Remember, that was in 2015. She did say that an important idea that could lead to the answer is the idea of GROWTH MINDSET.

Growth Mindset

Mindset is so important for success. A fixed mindset focuses on the outcome. Someone with a fixed mindset believes that you naturally have talent or intelligence, and there is nothing you can improve it. And, they believe that these natural abilities will determine whether one is successful or not. Many kids (and adults) have a fixed mindset. They see themselves as being either good or bad at something, and think that nothing they can do will change it. They might say things like:

“This is too hard. I give up.”

“He is smarter than me. I’ll never be that smart.”

Or, it can seem like a positive thought, such as:

“This is good enough.”

“I’m perfect at this. I don’t need to try anymore.”

If this is the way you see yourself, you are likely to decide that there is no point in trying. Why put effort in if you are already good enough? Why put effort in if you are never going to get better because it’s impossible?

Do you have a fixed mindset? Do you see your kids’ grades as the end-all and be-all, for example? Is getting into the right college the most important thing?

A growth mindset focuses on the process and on the learning. Instead of focusing on the grades, focus on the learning. Teach your kids to think of their brains as if they are muscles. Emphasize that you need to exercise your brain to make it stronger. Help them adopt the belief that their intelligence, abilities, and talents will increase with effort.

Growth mindset

When you encourage your kids, focus on effort, problem-solving, persistence, and learning. These are the character building traits that your kids need to be successful.

Dr. Peters recommended the book The Yes Brain: How to Cultivate Courage, Curiosity, and Resilience in Your Child by Dr. Daniel Siegel. Dr. Siegel is a psychiatry professor at UCLA. In his book, he talks about how to help your kids approach life with positivity and curiosity, instead of having “no brain” responses like aggression or withdrawal.

There is a great company called Big Life Journal that is on a mission to help parents help their kids develop a growth mindset. They have a journal aimed at kids ages 4-10, and another aimed at teens and tweens. They also have parent guides to supplement them, along with printables, posters, and games. Their new Resilience Kit for younger kids and tweens is a great resource for helping kids to develop grit and resilience. For older tweens and teens, there is the Big Life Journal Teen Edition. If you click over to the Big Life Journal website, you can sign up for their newsletter and receive free printables every Friday.

Limit Screentime

The last thing Dr. Peters touched on was something that is on every parent’s mind nowadays: Screen time. He said that too much screen time/technology/social media leads to lack of focus, distractibility, anxiety, depression, irritability. Plus, it often causes kids to stay up too late or get up too early, which causes lack of sleep, which exacerbates all of the above. PARENTS NEED TO HELP KIDS REGULATE SCREEN TIME AND WE NEED TO REGULATE OUR OWN SCREEN TIME.

Recently, 60 Minutes did a story about the effects of screen time on the brains of growing kids. Click here to read the transcript of the story.

What they found is that the growth of adolescent brains is actually changed by screen time and social media. Pretty horrifying, if you ask me. That is a whole other issue for another day, but I included it here because it is clear that too much screen time contributes to the mental health issues that we want to keep away from our kids. If you want to raise resilient kids, screen time is making it harder. All of those symptoms listed above – anxiety, depression, irritability, etc. – are the opposite of resilience.

If you need some help in reducing your kids’ screen time, click here to check out my article about creating a phone or tech contract for your family.

Be the model

Finally, the last thing you can do to help your kids be more resilient and develop a growth mindset is to BE THAT. Model for your kids what it looks like to face adversity and be strong. Show them how you problem-solve in your own life. Show them how you face difficult times by not giving up. Show them that when you fail at something, or when something is really hard, you get back up and try again.

If you want, you can also find examples of real life people who have overcome adversity and become stronger for it. Most inventors fit that description.

I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.

Thomas Edison

There is a funny new book series for the 8-12-year-old set about the “failures” of such historic figures as the Wright Brothers.

Big Life Journal also has a product to help teach kids about failure in a fun way. It’s called the Famous Failures Kit, and it is appropriate for ages 5-14. It’s a great resource for helping parents and teachers, highlighting the experience of famous people and all the ways that they’ve failed! I think kids (and people in general) often assume that successful people were always successful – that they have succeeded through luck or other good circumstances. Nope – they are people just like us!

What you need to know to raise resilient kids

So – that was a lot of info. Here is the take away from both of my articles on this topic. To raise resilient kids you need to:

  • challenge them to reach just beyond their abilities
  • praise them for their work and effort
  • teach them about their brains’ fight-or-flight response
  • lengthen the fuse
  • help them learn to solve their own problems
  • help them rewrite their self-talk
  • encourage them to work hard and persevere
  • develop a growth mindset – strengthen their brain to increase their intelligence and talents
  • limit their screen time
  • model problem solving and perseverance

Good luck! Parenting is the hardest job in the world, and we are all learning every day. Heck, if you are doing it right you probably feel like you are failing every day! Give these strategies a try, and don’t forget to try them yourself, too.

Want to learn about some books that can help kids gain resilience? Read my article Resources for Teaching Resilience to Kids.

Interested in raising positive kids and helping them with their mental health? Click here to check out my Ending Negativity series.

Struggling with how grumpy your kids are? Check out my article about dealing with your kids’ bad moods.

Need some ideas for stress reduction for your kids? Read Calming Activities for Tweens and Teens.

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12 Comments

  1. Wow! I’m amazed by this post, it’s so thorough. Thank you for talking about this extremely important topic and give us tools to get to where we want to go when raising our children!
    I’m curious though: do they talk about how different characteristics can impact the result? I mean do they mention if it’s harder at a young age for a naturally less optimistic child to reach these? I’m all in for teaching and raising and modelling importance, but I do believe that kids also come with different personalities and minds of their own.

    1. That is a great question. You are right, kids are very different! So far, I haven’t read anything about how to handle different personality types. The only personality characteristic that I recall being discussed is perfectionism. I didn’t touch on that much in my article, but I can include it next time. I think certain kids will be much more open to working on this than others will. My own children are very different from each other, and neither has a growth mindset yet. It is something our own family is struggling with – which is why I’ve been researching it! I plan to read the books that were recommended – maybe those authors tackled that question!

  2. This is such an important topic. Especially given the latest news about parents who aren’t willing to have their kids work or face challenges on their own!

    1. Yes! I think it is so important to spread the word on this. Parents are just trying to help their kids and don’t realize the long term damage their actions are causing.

  3. Lovely tips! I am trying to teach that to my oldest son who loves to give up quickly versus trying. He’s getting there! I know he will persevere.

    1. Thank you Cortney! Yes, setting a good example is something we parents have to remember in all sorts of areas!

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