Everyone wants their kids to excel. Help your children succeed with these 3 surprising ways to encourage learning through a growth mindset.
We see kids reading notches above grade level and not putting up a fight with worksheets. They’re driven with curiosity and asking questions. And they like learning.
This isn’t the work of a Tiger Mom. The kids aren’t necessarily gifted, either. So how do they do it?
I wanted the answers to these questions myself.
I have no intention of pushing my kids to the brink of stress and madness. But I also believe we sometimes shortchange our kids’ potential. They’re often more capable of more than adults give them credit for.
3 surprising ways to encourage learning
I wanted to encourage my kids to learn their full potential, without driving out their passions. Here’s what seems to work:
1. Let kids fail
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“I’ll do it!”
That’s been my four-year-old’s rebuff every time I try to help him. And thank goodness he pushes my help away.
Because my natural instinct is to save my kids from failure. I hate seeing them flounder in their struggles, making mistake after mistake.
But this is where the cool part happens: They find ways to fix the mistake. They try a new tactic, or try another day. And they learn to deal with their frustration, and to bounce back when they feel down.
They learn from their mistakes.
As their “coaches,” we help them navigate through their mistakes and processes. We encourage. But we shouldn’t always save them from failure, or coddle their self-esteem.
Self-esteem grows when kids feel like they’ve accomplished something. Not because we did it for them.
Case in point: I was helping my 15-month-old with a shape sorter toy. I noticed he was struggling with placing the shapes into the proper holes. So I “helped” him out: I stuck the shape in the hole so all he did was push it in.
Not the learning moment he could have had. The minute he couldn’t push a shape in, he’d hand it to me so I could do it for him again.
What should I have done?
I should have just let him struggle through it, even if it meant he’d never get a single shape through. Or showed him the bigger hole where he can fit the toy in a little better. Or “sportscast” his actions: “This one looks tough, doesn’t it.”
And that’s what I eventually did. I stopped putting the shapes in the holes for him. He struggled. He gave up after a few tries. Then a few days later, he went back to it, and wouldn’t you know, he figured it out.
2. Get kids to think
Kids are thinking all the time, right?
Well, yes and no. Because there’s thinking, then there’s critical thinking. Kids should think beyond rote memorization. Encourage them to be critical thinkers.
For instance, let’s say you have a craft assignment planned out for your kids. You’re going to make a jellyfish out of a paper bowl, some paint and a few streamers. You have your child paint the bowl green and decorate the top with blue dots. Then you tell him to glue foot-long pink streamers to the inside of the bowl.
Ta-da! You made a jellyfish. Except… you made a jellyfish.
You had a vision for what the jellyfish should look like, where to glue, and what materials to use. Granted, your kid learned a lesson in following directions and got a hand in painting and gluing. But not so much with thinking and creating.
Or how about memorizing. We’re so proud when our kid can memorize, from words in a lengthy book to answers to common math problems. And memory has been said to be an indicator of overall smarts. Plus it comes in handy and is one of our most useful tools our brain has to come to rely on through evolution.
But don’t confuse rote memorization with critical thinking. Memory is necessary, but not at the cost of strategies, concepts or creativity.
How to encourage critical thinking? Parents need only do two things, says Amanda Ripley, reporter and author of The Smartest Kids in the World and How They Got That Way:
When children were young, parents who read to them every day or almost every day had kids who performed much better in reading, all around the world, by the time they were fifteen…
As kids got older, the parental involvement that seemed to matter most was different but related. All over the world, parents who discussed movies, books, and current affairs with their kids had teenagers who performed better in reading. Here again, parents who engaged their kids in conversation about things larger than themselves were essentially teaching their kids to become thinking adults.
For younger kids: Read every day, and when you do, ask ‘why.’ As you go through the story, don’t just read it out loud. Once in a while, ask him why he thinks the girl is running away from the bears. Or how the snail was able to win the race. Or whether he thinks it’s a good idea for Spencer to tell on Hiro. Ask him what he thinks will happen next before you turn the page.
For older kids and teens: Talk every day about current events. Discuss events going on at school, at work, in your community, and in the news (with discretion). Same principle here: You’re building critical thinking skills and encouraging them to ask questions about their worlds.
3. Believe in your child’s potential
It all starts with how we view them. And in kids’ case, their potential is much wider than what we give credit for.
Kids are hardy. They can try and try and keep trying until they get it. Don’t worry about whether they can pour water by themselves or put on their own jackets. They’ll tell you when they can’t. Point is, let them tell you.
Hold realistic and high expectations of your kids. Err on the side of higher expectations. They’ll give you cues when they can’t. For instance, they’ll stop or change the activity, get frustrated, or ask for help.
Give them challenging work. Allow them to be self-sufficient a notch above what you think they’re too young for. Even if they stumble those first few times, let them try.
If they’re bored with puzzles and worksheets, don’t take that as a sign of “smartness.” All it means is they need more challenging work. Say, “Oops, sorry that was too easy. Next time I’ll find something you can learn from.”
Focus less on self-esteem. We coddle our kids too much, afraid they’ll grow up with poor self-esteem. But guess what: we feel proud for improving and accomplishing what was once hard. Hearing we’re the best or we’re so great doesn’t cut it.
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Kids develop at different stages, so it’s never an easy to task to know when you’re pushing too hard or not enough. But many of the habits we carry—supporting their self-esteem, hand-holding, or fearing for their failures—may do more harm than good.
Expand beyond your comfort zone: Let your kids fail, and learn from their failure. Get kids to think instead of just memorizing facts. Encourage learning habits, from reading every day to discussing current events.
And believe in their potential. If their own parents don’t think they can do it, who will?
Get more tips how to encourage learning:
- The Smartest Kids in the World and How They Got That Way by Amanda Ripley
- How to Raise a Smart Child
- Teaching Resilience and Perseverance: How to Raise Kids with Grit
- How to Properly Use Praise to Encourage Your Child’s Potential
- 15 Practical Ways to Prepare Your Child for Kindergarten
Tell me in the comments: How do you encourage learning in your child?
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