Learning to 'try again'
Teaching resilience is so important, but what is resilience? At its core it is the habitual capacity to conquer our fears, our fears of not coping, of being unable to resolve a problem. The great Catalan educator and father of sixteen, Rafael Pich, spoke of the duty of parents to ‘raise children to solve their own problems in life’. The innercore of this resilience is the virtue of fortitude.
In the video, Dan and Liz Carrick demonstrate important ways to teach resilience. Liz guides her daughter to a learned experience of success. Her expectations are realistic. Her tone is encouraging. She doesn’t get cranky saying ‘Where is your sock? You should know better!’ Her conversation focusses on a real attitude to be learned: ‘trying again’. And she reinforces the lesson with joy. ‘Trying again’ pays off.
This readiness to try again is at the heart of Psychologist Carol Dweck’s work on mindsets. She urges parents to raise children with a mindset of overcoming challenges by forming concrete plans, by not giving up, by seeing mistakes simply as opportunities to learn. She celebrates effort. She writes:
Effort is one of those things that gives meaning to life. Effort means you care about something, that something is important to you and you are willing to work for it.
Another message she likes to inculcate in kids is ‘This is hard. This is fun’. Let’s raise kids who are not scared of hard work, of having another go at something. Let’s raise them with an ‘I can do this if I stick at it’ attitude.
Of course parents must lead from the front. How often we lose our serenity when life seems to conspire against us, when the pot boils over, when we walk into a messy room. We must make our own weather. Let’s give the example of breaking a problem into small doable goals; let’s keep a smile on our faces. Let’s be patient and keep focused on our goals. Anger, frustration and impatience are telltale signs that we have let our fears master us. Reinforce big lessons with joy not with anger.
And let’s live the lives of the little ones in our care, empathising with them about how hard they can find situations, so that, looking at them in the eyes as we talk, we coach them to ‘try again’. These are big life lessons. Without resilience we end up wallowing in our own negative self-perceptions. We end up, tragically, incapable of love and of responding to the love of others. Parents too, when they obsess about the negatives, become incapable of showing love for others.
- How do you teach children to solve their own problems?
- Do you do jobs with your children so they learn by imitation?
- With good humour do you insist that kids finish what they start, clean up properly, put things back in the right places?
- Do you celebrate effort? Do you focus more application grades than achievement grades on school reports?
- Do you demonstrate that you too are persevering at learning new skills... a musical instrument, blogging, ringing call back radio to talk common sense?
Finding a positive in everything
How upbeat is this mum taxi driver in Wellington, talking to her passenger! 'I raised seven children while working nightshift for sixteen years in the post office - six of my own and we adopted the seventh. My husband died two years ago, but at least now I can keep the cab clean.'
Carol Dweck describes a mindset as a mental attitude determining how you see and respond to situations. Her research shows that the way we confront difficulties and persevere in our efforts has more to do with ultimate success than sheer talent. Mindsets are acquired habitual responses to fear and anxiety inducing situations. They are founded in the capacity of the brain for plastic change in response to experience and choices. Dweck contrasts a growth mindset, a conviction that 'effort and persistence are key to learning and success', with a fixed mindset where we are beaten before we start, where we give ourselves excuses and we only try in the things we are already good at. In this way we woefully squander our potential. If we give in to a fixed mindset, we too can talk ourselves out of challenges before we face them. Sadly too we might even walk away from a relationship rather than working at it.