1. Praise effort, not the child or the result
If you praise a child for their ability, talent or intelligence, it makes them focus on looking “good” (however you define it, in looks or in good marks) and not on the learning process.
“It's better to focus on effort and the action your baby is doing. ‘You worked hard on that’ versus ‘you're so good at that’,” says Stanford psychology professor Carol S Dweck. In fact, researchers from Stanford University discovered that how mothers praised their babies and toddlers affected their child’s motivational level later on in life. It also affected how children believed in themselves and their desire to take on challenges five years later.
Toddlers who had heard praise commending their efforts were more likely — as older children — to prefer challenges than those who heard praise directed at them personally, the study found.
“Our message to parents is to focus on the process the child engages in, such as trying hard or focusing on the task — what specific things they're doing, rather than ‘you’re so smart, you’re so good at this”, Prof Dweck said.
2. Allow your child to experience frustration
Most parents hate to see their child struggle and as a result, often step in to help their child resolve their frustrations. But parents should understand that it is the experience of challenges and overcoming of them (with a struggle) that allows a child to learn firsthand that the most rewarding achievements do not come easily.
So, the next time your child is struggling to complete a challenging puzzle or learning to ride a bicycle and falling off, do not be too quick to step in to help at the first sign of your child’s struggles or their complaints.
Encourage your child to keep trying and not give up, but refrain from stepping in to complete the puzzle for your child or changing your child’s bicycle to one with training wheels (for instance). By letting your child experience for themselves the sweet satisfaction of accomplishment after great effort, hard work and persistence, you are giving them the opportunity to develop a more gritty character, one which will serve them well in life (and hopefully be less “strawberry”).
3. Tell them about successes who overcame adversity
There are many stories you can tell your little one. Read (from books or even online) or talk about such stories with your child. Try Thomas Edison, who failed up to 10,000 times before successfully creating the light bulb, or Nick Vijucic, born without any arms or legs, who went on to become a very successful motivational speaker.
The key is to use such stories to inspire your child and to instill in them a “don’t quit” attitude in the face of failure or challenges. In fact, quote Edison himself: “I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work.”
4. Help your child break big problems into smaller tasks
As adults, big problems overwhelm even us. Therefore, when our child comes home from school with a problem or project that they feel overwhelmed by — whether it is to prepare for a show and tell, or a Science project — help them to break down the task into smaller, manageable problems.
You can guide your child to write down a list of ideas for the show and tell or conduct research together on the Internet for the Science project. The key is not to complete the project for your child, which many parents do, but to help them figure out ways to break the problem into solvable challenges. This, too, is a useful life skill for adulthood.
5. Share personal experiences of failure and bouncing back
Most parents feel strange talking about their personal struggles, frustrations and especially failures with their child. However, hearing a parent talk about their own failures can help a child learn that problems, frustrations and set-backs are a normal part of life and how we respond to those challenges is the most important.
When our child hears and sees how their parent continues to persist and not give up in the face of set-backs, they will have the opportunity to learn and model such resilient attitudes and behaviours, allowing them to develop a more gritty character.
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