Staying in the Struggle:  Teaching Your Child How to Succeed When Times Get Tough

We are a few weeks into school, and while some kids are hitting their stride, others are struggling. Maybe they failed a test or are having a hard time in a club or sport. Perhaps, it’s not our kids who are struggling right now, but us. Hurricane Ida, living in a pandemic, work stress, taxiing kids to and from extracurricular activities, or just plain ol’ life has brought us to our knees. Many times we feel as though our missteps are signs that we are failing–that we are not enough. This is called a fixed mindset. People with fixed mindsets usually believe that failing is one of the worst things that could ever happen to them. That by making a mistake, they will no longer be smart or talented. Looking at the world through this filter can be overwhelming.

One thing that I have found to help in overcoming obstacles is to have a growth mindset. A growth mindset is a way of thinking that helps you to see the world through the lens that mistakes are not a sign of failure, but of growth. Mistakes are where you learn what works and what doesn’t. It is from here that one can make changes, try again, and eventually succeed. Most people at the top of their fields accredit their success not to perfection, but to failure. For it is from these failures that they learned invaluable lessons such as hard work and perseverance. While a growth mindset can’t control what kinds of problems come your way, it can change the way in which you react to the situation.

So what can you do to teach your children (and yourself) to have a growth mindset? Here are a few ideas to help.

Change your words, change your mindset.

Contrary to the age-old adage, “Sticks and bones can break your bones, but words will never hurt me,” words are powerful. They have the ability to change the way that we view the world and ourselves. By changing your words, you can change your mindset. Success starts by believing you can. Here are a few examples of phrases that can switch your thinking.

Instead of saying this:                                  Try this:

This is too hard                                            It’ll get easier with more practice!

I’m not good at this.                                     What can I learn to get better at this?

I can’t do it.                                                 I can try a different strategy.

I’m afraid of making mistakes.                       I can learn from mistakes and get better.

I’ll never be as smart as that person.             Everyone is talented at different things.

 

Storybooks

In my classroom, I often use storybooks to introduce a topic or concept. I find that this is also effective when I want to broach an important topic with my own kids at home. Here are some of my favorite storybooks that also promote a growth mindset.

The Dot

This is the story of Vashti who believes that she can’t draw. Upset, Vashti simply makes a tiny dot on her page with her pencil. Her perceptive and caring art teacher advises her to sign her work as if she were a true artist. Vashti looks at her dot and thinks, “I can do better than that!” Soon Vashti is creating collections of dots and inspiring others.  In fact, this book has inspired a real-life holiday! Every September 15-ish International Dot Day celebrates art, ingenuity, and having the courage to try something new.

Rosie Revere, Engineer

A favorite of parents and educators alike, this New York Times Bestseller follows little Rosie as she creates machines out of others’ trash. One day her machine crashes, and Rosie feels as though she is a failure. Her great Aunt Rose (Rosie the Riveter) teaches her that the only failure would be to quit. If you like this book, you’ll also love Ada Twist, Scientist and Iggy Peck, Architect by the same authors.

After the Fall (How Humpty Dumpty Got Back Up Again)

I discovered this book last year when I was doing a “March Madness” tournament of books in my class. This book immediately hit me in all the feels. By Dan Santat, it is the story of Humpty Dumpty after his great fall. In it, he discusses the worry and anxiety that he feels following his accident. Watch him as he dusts himself off, overcomes his fears, and learns to soar. This story is guaranteed to become an instant family favorite.  

Be a good example.

Like it or not, our kids take our cues from us. Our attitudes and actions set the tone for how our children react to the world. We need to discuss and model the behaviors that we wish to see in our children. One way that you can do this is to normalize failure at home. No, I am not advocating for you to set your children up to fail or for you to sit around and have a pity party, but it is important for them to see that you will still love them even if they fail. Stress hard work and perseverance over perfection. One way to do this is to have family discussions in which each person says one thing that they failed at today. As a family, you can talk about how to better handle the situation the next time that it arises. You can also discuss ways that you overcame obstacles. Share your thinking and strategies that you used.

Let them struggle.

I know that this is a tough one. As moms, we feel that our job is to ease every pain and struggle that our children experience. One of the greatest gifts that we can give our children, however, is to teach them how to stand on their own two feet and solve problems on their own. There is a popular saying, “Stay in the struggle.” This means that when encountering a problem, you must not give up. When things get hard, start to think of other possible ways to solve the problem. It will be hard and that’s okay. We can do hard things. As adults, we need to step back and let the kids figure it out on their own sometimes.  

A proud Cajun, Aimée was born and raised in Lafayette, LA. A graduate of both UL Lafayette and LSU, Aimée has degrees in French and History and a Masters in Gifted Education. After college, she moved to France to be a teaching assistant and traveled to her heart’s delight. Upon her return to Louisiana, Aimée got her teaching certification and began her career teaching grades K-3. Today, she is married to chef Jacob Hamilton, and is mom to CeCe (4 years old) and Benny (2 years old) who keep their hearts happy and their hands full. Though her technical job description is third grade gifted teacher, Aimée prefers to think of herself as a fun facilitator helping children of all ages discover a love of learning. She enjoys traveling, reading, going to festivals, having a good laugh, and is always down for a spontaneous dance party. Always.

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