I’m concerned about Aristotle. Actually, I’ve been concerned for a long time now and the older Aristotle grows, the more I have observed that increases my concern. Despite all my best efforts to negate the problem, it seems like nothing I’ve done has had any effect.
So what’s the problem?
Fixed Mindset or Growth Mindset?
What kind of mindset does your child have? Is it a fixed mindset or a growth mindset? If you’re not sure what either of those terms mean, read the following descriptions and see if you can identify which category your child falls into.
Fixed Mindset: in a fixed mindset, people believe their basic qualities, like their intelligence or talent, are simply fixed traits. They spend their time documenting their intelligence or talent instead of developing them. They also believe that talent alone creates success—without effort. They’re wrong.
Growth Mindset: in a growth mindset, people believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work—brains and talent are just the starting point. This view creates a love of learning and a resilience that is essential for great accomplishment. Virtually all great people have had these qualities.
If you read the book Mindset by Carol Dweck, Dweck highlights all the ways in which having a growth mindset can impact our lives. If you want your child to grow up to be happy, confident and successful, it is important to raise your child with a growth mindset. This mindset extends far beyond academic success in school. It will permeate every aspect of your child’s life and provide the kind of benefits that any parent might hope for. When I read Mindset, I knew this was exactly what Aristotle needed.
My child already has a growth mindset…
…so we don’t need this, or do we?
In answer to this question, let me share a story…
When Aristotle was nearly 3 years old, my SIL and I were taking him to meet his father for lunch. It was a working day but Daddy was in the area and figured we could catch up before he headed back to the office. Aristotle, at this age, was mad about “sesame noodles” which was available at a certain restaurant. He only wanted to eat there and nowhere else. Daddy wanted to eat at a Chinese restaurant, so my SIL and I (who were also tired of eating at the same restaurant) tried to convince Aristotle to eat at the Chinese restaurant. We told him that Daddy wanted to eat duck which was only available at the Chinese restaurant. Aristotle was silent for a while. When he spoke again, he said, “Daddy can buy duck and come to sesame noodle.”
Instead throwing a tantrum or insisting that everybody eat what he wanted, Aristotle thought of a solution that would make everyone, including himself, happy.
Here’s another incident that happened also when he was nearly 3 years old…
My SIL2 had taken Aristotle shopping and promised to let him buy a toy train. She picked up two trains and told him he could only have one but she would let him choose which one. He looked at both trains and deliberated. He clearly wanted to have them both. Then he pointed out that if he chose the engine, it would have no train to pull; and if he chose the truck, it would have no engine to pull it, so he needed to have both.
Again, there was no insistence and no tantrums, just a clear argument why he had to have both. Pretty impressive thinking for an almost 3 year old.
The Growing Pains of a Fixed Mindset
Last night, the following happened (I think I should add that Aristotle is now 6 years old):
We were at a family dinner and Aristotle wanted to play the iPad. To challenge him, I told him that if he could present us with a convincing argument why he had to have the iPad, I would let him have it. Instead of even trying to think of a reason, he whinged and complained that he couldn’t think of one and was almost teary.
Needless to say, I was upset. I might not have been so upset if he had at least tried to think of something. Instead, he came up with no reasons, not even a lame excuse. He just protested that he was incapable of thinking. What happened to my 3 year old with that clear, logical mind? Where did it go?
I am left with the conclusion that even children who are born with a propensity for a growth mindset can end up shifting towards the fixed mindset because of environmental factors that are beyond our control. In spite of all the “effort” praise we bestow upon our children, they may come to the wrong conclusion that intelligence is innate when it seems to come easily to them compared to their peers. I believe this is a trap that precocious children are in danger of falling into. Without intervention, they can remained stuck in that trap.
Real World Examples
Dweck gave an example of Billy Beane who was a “natural” sportsman:
“by the time Beane was a sophomore in high school, he was the highest scorer on the basketball team, the quarterback of the football team, and the best hitter on the baseball team, batting .500 in one of the toughest leagues in the country. His talent was real enough.
But the minute things went wrong, Beane searched for something to break. ‘It wasn’t merely that he didn’t like to fail; it was as if he didn’t know how to fail.’
As he moved up in baseball from the minor leagues to the majors, things got worse and worse. Each at-bat became a nightmare, another opportunity for humiliation, and with every botched at-bat, he went to pieces.”
I think this is a very real trap that a lot of young talents fall into. They are so used to being “the best” that they develop a belief that they cannot fail because if they do, it proves they are not the best any more.
On the Flip Side of the Coin
Contrary to this, sports greats like Michael Jordan and Muhammad Ali, who were never picked to be sports “naturals” had the growth mindsets of winners. In their early sports careers, no one noticed them because they were not the typical sports “natural”. No one would have picked them to turn out the way they did.
“It was well known that Michael Jordan was cut from the high school varsity team – we laugh at the coach who cut him. He wasn’t recruited by the college he wanted to play for… He wasn’t drafted by the first two NBA teams that could have chosen him.”
When we think of Michael Jordan now, we don’t remember a basketball player who was actually kind of short for a basketball player. In our minds, he is a giant because we know he is one of the greatest basketball players of all time. And he was one of the greatest because even at the height of his career, he dedication to practice was legendary.
“Boxing experts relied on physical measurements, called ‘tales of the tape,’ to identify naturals. They included measurements of the fighter’s fist, reach, chest expansion, and weight. Muhammad Ali failed these measurements. He was not a natural. He had great speed but he didn’t have the physique of a great fighter, he didn’t have the strength, and he didn’t have the classical moves. In fact, he boxed all wrong.”
When we think of Muhammad Ali now, we remember a giant because he was heavyweight boxing champion of the world. We don’t realise that he didn’t even have the measurements of a boxing champion.
What’s the Bottom Line?
Seems almost ironic that it might possibly be easier to succeed if you begin with less talent. But I digress, this isn’t the point I’m trying to make. The point is the importance of having a growth mindset.
I know that Aristotle is in danger of falling into the trap of the fixed mindset. In fact, I think he’s already in there. He doesn’t just hate to lose, he’s a sore loser. He doesn’t want to play any more after he loses. If he is presented with a sample of problems, he will choose the problems he knows he can answer. If he has a choice between two sets of problems – a harder and an easier set – he will take the easier path. He can tease but he can’t be teased – he is an easy target for bullying and it worries me to no end.
At least now I know there is a way to handle this. Mindsetonline offers a program for changing mindsets. It can also be used with children. If you want to help your child develop a growth mindset as well, you can begin here: