"The only choice parents have is deciding which mistakes to make." This piece of wisdom was imparted to me years ago by a well-known and highly respected family therapist and researcher, and I suspect that many caring parents who try to navigate through the tonnage of advice shared in books, among parents, by well-meaning grandparents and others might feel that way often.
While science has not always been helpful in this regard, often leaving us alone to make what we hope are the right decisions about bedtime challenges, friendship choices and the appropriate use of smartphones, science has offered up a few insights that may be of help. One of the most important of these is the knowledge that attention is essential.
When we hear, "Mommy, Daddy, look at me!" we wisely recognize this as a healthy desire for attention. However, studies undertaken by Dr. Carol Dweck at Stanford University have revealed that not all attention is equal. She describes two major types of attention, both well-meaning but not equally helpful.
When researching, she and her team discovered that, while praising children for their talent, intelligence and creativity is certainly kind, it can create problems as they grow. This is due to the fact that no matter how smart or naturally gifted a child might be, challenges and competition tend to increase across time. When this happens, their confidence is threatened and they may grow to fear or resent difficulties they encounter. On the other hand, praising children for their effort and persistence (what she calls the "growth mindset") invites a lifetime of learning and exploration. As challenges arise, these children tend to expect them and, in response, often work even harder. As they grow into adolescence and adulthood, they more readily seek feedback, are more open to criticism and they tend to accept setbacks as part of the process of growing.
Even when our kids are grown, it's never too late to encourage a growth mindset by praising them for their persistence and passion in the pursuit of their dreams.
Robert Maurer is a Spokane psychologist, consultant and author of One Small Step Can Change Your Life.