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One little change in how you talk to your kids can help them be more successful.

It's so simple, but a lot of people have no idea it's even a thing.

Why didn't anybody tell me this?

When expecting a child, a lot of parents tend to read anything they can get their hands on to figure out what to expect during pregnancy and the first few years of life. They tell you how to feed your baby, how often to take them to the doctor, and how to prevent choking tragedies and all kinds of other hazards.


Ideas about learning start early. Image by Donnie Ray Jones/Flickr.

But very few people are spreading the word about one simple thing you can do to help your child be successful.

Dr. Carol Dweck, a researcher who is pioneering a shift in how we view motivation in humans, is one of the few evangelizing about how to instill a growth mindset instead of a fixed mindset. Her talk on this was recently turned into an RSA Animate video. Another public figure trying to spread the word is Sal Khan from Khan Academy.

The quickest way to explain what it means to instill a growth mindset is: Praise your child explicitly for how capable they are of learning rather than telling them how smart they are.

For instance, here are how some conversations would play out to instill one type of mindset over the other:

FIXED MINDSET: "You read that sentence in the book — you are so smart!"

GROWTH MINDSET: "You read that sentence in the book — you worked so hard to learn how to do that and now you can! Congratulations!"

FIXED MINDSET: "You finished that puzzle so quickly — what a smart kid!"

GROWTH MINDSET: "I'm sorry I wasted your time with an easy puzzle — let me find another one that will give us a bigger challenge. I know we can do it!"

FIXED MINDSET: "You got an 80% on your test." (And then moving on to the next chapter immediately.)

GROWTH MINDSET: "You got an 80% on your test; that means you are well on your way to knowing this stuff! If you review the ones you missed and take the test again tomorrow, I bet you'll get closer to a 100%."

It's a subtle shift in messaging, but the difference it makes can be huge.

When you change your approach to praise, you're changing the achievement marker (reading a sentence or getting an 80% on a test) from a value judgment on the inherent intellect of the child to a series of messages throughout your child's life that instead places value on the process of learning.

It means a child's self-worth and confidence in trying things for the first time doesn't become tied to how well they can immediately perform or how inherently smart they are because they know they have more than one chance to prove themselves.

This isn't just a theory or some New-Age hippie-dippie parenting trend.

Through field research with a class of seventh graders, Dweck has begun proving that a growth mindset can make a significant difference. She and her team tracked a group of kids who entered their school year with almost identical test scores and noted which kids displayed growth mindset attitudes at the beginning and which ones held the beliefs of a fixed mindset.

Check out how the kids' grades fared over two years:


The top line is for the kids with the growth mindset, and the bottom line is for the kids with the fixed mindset. GIF via RSA Animate.

Why such a clear difference, though?

As Dweck explains in the RSA Animate video:

"We measured their mindsets — we saw whether they believed intelligence was fixed or could be developed. … They had entered seventh grade with just about identical achievement test scores. But by the end of the first term, their grades jumped apart and continued to diverge over the next two years. The only thing that differed were their mindsets. ...

They had completely different goals in school. The number one goal for kids in the fixed mindset is 'look smart at all times and at all costs.' So their whole lives are oriented toward avoiding tasks that might show a deficiency.

But in a growth mindset, where they believe intelligence can be developed, their cardinal rule is 'LEARN at all times and at all costs.'"



How early should you start instilling a growth mindset and is it ever too late?

If you think you can do it, you can. Photo by John Morgan/Flickr.

Khan Academy's Sal Khan says it's never too early and it's never too late. He's passionate about providing resources to all children so they can learn, but he realizes that they only use the resources if they're excited and empowered to believe they can learn.

There are a couple of ways you can go about promoting a growth mindset, as Khan tells Upworthy:

A growth mindset can be instilled from the beginning.

"I think you can start from as soon as they can understand language. I think children naturally have a growth mindset. What I think happens very early, and maybe earlier than the school system is we project onto our kids where we say, 'Look she's so smart, she did that,' and that can be good positive reinforcement but it has a risk of the child getting addicted to that type of feedback so they don't want to take a risk where they might not get that feedback...or they don't want to shatter their parents' perception of them being smart."

And it can be practiced and introduced in later years, too.

"It gets a little harder but you can. Everyone has a growth mindset about some things and a fixed mindset about other things. I might have a growth mindset already about math or science or academics because I've experienced it multiple times and know that if I struggle, that the pain will pay off. But in basketball, as a kid, I probably had a pretty fixed mindset. I didn't touch a basketball until I was 11. [I thought] 'All the other kids are so much better, I'm never going to be [like them] ...' I had a fixed mindset but it was only in high school that I thought ... if I go out there and keep practicing and put myself out there and take myself out of my comfort zone ... and it pays off."

Whether you are a parent or plan on being one, are a teacher or a learner, or maybe even if you just struggle with impostor syndrome, this video may be the key to unlocking potential you've been feeling blocked from.

You can learn anything. Spread the news.

Watch Dr. Carol Dweck's RSA Animate video below:

Connections Academy

Wylee Mitchell is a senior at Nevada Connections Academy who started a t-shirt company to raise awareness for mental health.

True

Teens of today live in a totally different world than the one their parents grew up in. Not only do young people have access to technologies that previous generations barely dreamed of, but they're also constantly bombarded with information from the news and media.

Today’s youth are also living through a pandemic that has created an extra layer of difficulty to an already challenging age—and it has taken a toll on their mental health.

According to Mental Health America, nearly 14% of youths ages 12 to 17 experienced a major depressive episode in the past year. In a September 2020 survey of high schoolers by Active Minds, nearly 75% of respondents reported an increase in stress, anxiety, sadness and isolation during the first six months of the pandemic. And in a Pearson and Connections Academy survey of US parents, 66% said their child felt anxious or depressed during the pandemic.

However, the pandemic has only exacerbated youth mental health issues that were already happening before COVID-19.

“Many people associate our current mental health crisis with the pandemic,” says Morgan Champion, the head of counseling services for Connections Academy Schools. “In fact, the youth mental health crisis was alarming and on the rise before the pandemic. Today, the alarm continues.”

Mental Health America reports that most people who take the organization’s online mental health screening test are under 18. According to the American Psychiatric Association, about 50% of cases of mental illness begin by age 14, and the tendency to develop depression and bipolar disorder nearly doubles from age 13 to age 18.

Such statistics demand attention and action, which is why experts say destigmatizing mental health and talking about it is so important.

“Today we see more people talking about mental health openly—in a way that is more akin to physical health,” says Champion. She adds that mental health support for young people is being more widely promoted, and kids and teens have greater access to resources, from their school counselors to support organizations.

Parents are encouraging this support too. More than two-thirds of American parents believe children should be introduced to wellness and mental health awareness in primary or middle school, according to a new Global Learner Survey from Pearson. Since early intervention is key to helping young people manage their mental health, these changes are positive developments.

In addition, more and more people in the public eye are sharing their personal mental health experiences as well, which can help inspire young people to open up and seek out the help they need.

“Many celebrities and influencers have come forward with their mental health stories, which can normalize the conversation, and is helpful for younger generations to understand that they are not alone,” says Champion.

That’s one reason Connections Academy is hosting a series of virtual Emotional Fitness talks with Olympic athletes who are alums of the virtual school during Mental Health Awareness Month. These talks are free, open to the public and include relatable topics such as success and failure, leadership, empowerment and authenticity. For instance, on May 18, Olympic women’s ice hockey player Lyndsey Fry will speak on finding your own style of confidence, and on May 25, Olympic figure skater Karen Chen will share advice for keeping calm under pressure.

Family support plays a huge role as well. While the pandemic has been challenging in and of itself, it has actually helped families identify mental health struggles as they’ve spent more time together.

“Parents gained greater insight into their child’s behavior and moods, how they interact with peers and teachers,” says Champion. “For many parents this was eye-opening and revealed the need to focus on mental health.”

It’s not always easy to tell if a teen is dealing with normal emotional ups and downs or if they need extra help, but there are some warning signs caregivers can watch for.

“Being attuned to your child’s mood, affect, school performance, and relationships with friends or significant others can help you gauge whether you are dealing with teenage normalcy or something bigger,” Champion says. Depending on a child’s age, parents should be looking for the following signs, which may be co-occurring:

  • Perpetual depressed mood
  • Rocky friend relationships
  • Spending a lot of time alone and refusing to participate in daily activities
  • Too much or not enough sleep
  • Not eating a regular diet
  • Intense fear or anxiety
  • Drug or alcohol use
  • Suicidal ideation (talking about being a burden or giving away possessions) or plans

“You know your child best. If you are unsure if your child is having a rough time or if there is something more serious going on, it is best to reach out to a counselor or doctor to be sure,” says Champion. “Always err on the side of caution.”

If it appears a student does need help, what next? Talking to a school counselor can be a good first step, since they are easily accessible and free to visit.

“Just getting students to talk about their struggles with a trusted adult is huge,” says Champion. “When I meet with students and/or their families, I work with them to help identify the issues they are facing. I listen and recommend next steps, such as referring families to mental health resources in their local areas.”

Just as parents would take their child to a doctor for a sprained ankle, they shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help if a child is struggling mentally or emotionally. Parents also need to realize that they may not be able to help them on their own, no matter how much love and support they have to offer.

“That is a hard concept to accept when parents can feel solely responsible for their child’s welfare and well-being,” says Champion. “The adage still stands—it takes a village to raise a child. Be sure you are surrounding yourself and your child with a great support system to help tackle life’s many challenges.”

That village can include everyone from close family to local community members to public figures. Helping young people learn to manage their mental health is a gift we can all contribute to, one that will serve them for a lifetime.

Join athletes, Connections Academy and Upworthy for candid discussions on mental health during Mental Health Awareness Month. Learn more and find resources here.

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