July 15, 2020
Golf and Growth Mindsets
By Dr Kathy Weston
It is the question on many parents’ minds: how can I help my child to keep going rather than give up? To win graciously and not to collapse into self-loathing at the first whiff of defeat. Some parents find themselves so fearful of their child’s reaction to losing, that playing a simple game together actually makes them feel queasy.
If their child’s counter lands on mum’s hotel during a game of Monopoly, how will they respond? Will they stay, stomp off or lash out? In some families, victory for the child is accompanied by a palpable sense of relief, along with the uncomfortable knowledge that they are only happy when they’ve beaten someone else.
Millions of parents aspire to their children possessing what psychologist Carole Dweck calls a ‘growth mindset’. Having a growth mindset means that when children make mistakes, they will learn and develop from them. They will believe that hard work pays off and see persistence as a valued asset. Trouble is, Dweck’s much applauded theory has been tricky to implement in classrooms and harder still in family homes.
Starting from ‘scratch’ during a recent family golf game reignited my interest in growth mindsets and underlined the critical importance of parents practising what we preach and persisting in our efforts to model the kind of behaviour we hope our children will eventually emulate.
I come from a family of golf enthusiasts, but didn’t know a birdie from an eagle until last week, when I finally decided to give it a go. As a complete novice, I was suddenly on the receiving end of instructions from my husband not to move my head and relax into the swing. Concentrating on novel skills whilst adjusting to this new coach/coachee dynamic was challenging.
With our offspring as witnesses, I knew I had an important responsibility, right there and then, to model Dweck’s famous growth mindset. Until you are back in the learning saddle, you forget how children feel tackling a new challenge in front of an audience; frustrated, angry, irritated by one’s slow progress compared to others and, well, defensive!
It can be really hard in these moments not to give up, shout back at the teacher and/or throw down one’s club. Sometimes it is easier to believe those ‘gremlin thoughts’, which tell us we are never going to improve.
Dweck’s typologies of fixed and growth mindset emerged from a single experiment; one that has proven tricky to replicate. However, the ‘gist’ of what Dweck’s work emphasises matters very much. Successful people are pretty resilient to setbacks and such a disposition can really help an individual to cope with the rollercoaster of life.
However, cultivating this kind of resilient thinking in children takes time and consistency of approach. As Dweck herself has admitted, it takes more than a poster about growth mindset on a classroom wall to shift a child’s thinking.
The same caveats apply to nurturing a growth mindset within family life. Demanding a growth mindset won’t work. What will work is providing a family culture that values challenge, making mistakes and celebrates all progress.
Optimal conditions mean children are uncomfortable but accepting when they lose, and are up for trying again next time. Effective praise plays a part, but it isn’t everything.
Do you model the behaviour you wish to see? Is there consistency of approach and values between parents? Do you praise your child for sticking at something or insist that they get it done as quickly as possible? Do you tell them that effort is the only thing that matters, but then feel enraged when they flunk science?
Inconsistency can deaden children’s enthusiasm and make them feel defeated. It can also impact on their self-esteem. Who likes being told two or even three different things?
It is always a good idea to try something challenging yourself. It will give you an opportunity to be vulnerable as ‘pupil’ and to model the tenacity and appetite for learning that you might wish to see in your children.
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