Imagine: It is grit that matters more than your child’s grades

parenting tips, exam stress

It is the growth mindset and grit that will determine children’s success in life. From us, they learn that adversity is an invitation to rise above and not give up. They also learn that life is not a sprint, but a marathon.

‘What does intelligence mean?’ ‘Does it change?’ ‘What can change it?’ These are some questions I ask children when I meet them. And most times, what I get in response is stunned silence (I guess they do not meet many adults who want to know this) and then typically, ‘I don’t know…’, ‘I am not sure…’ followed by ‘Intelligence is to come first in class’ or ‘Intelligence is being best in studies.’

Most children believe, and I would say parents do too, that intelligence is something you are born with. The same is true for other attributes like creativity, athleticism or artistic ability. It is largely believed that you either have it or you don’t. It is a bit of genes and luck that decides whether you will be a loser or winner in life. Right?

Wrong! Carol Dweck from Stanford University has done decades of research on the groundbreaking concept she calls growth mindset (Mindset – The New Psychology of Success) to illustrate that what children need is not just good genes and luck but a growth mindset towards life. What is growth mindset and how does it differ from fixed mindset?

Fixed mindset refers to a belief that children have fixed skills and abilities. That their character, intelligence and creative ability is predetermined and cannot be changed. Accordingly, some children are good at some things and some children are not good at some things and it is pretty hard-wired and there is not much scope for stretching it. Therefore, we hear statements such as ‘he is intelligent and does not need to try,’ ‘he has low IQ and will not amount to much’.

Children internalise this approach and start defining themselves — ‘I am dumb’, ‘I am terrible at math’. Children raised on a diet of ‘you are the best’ will be too scared to try out new things and avoid failure. So though a child might love chess, she is scared of playing it because what if she fails and people find out that she is not best at everything? She is precariously holding on to her top position and wouldn’t be able to hop down and try something different, something that she may enjoy. She might go through life — school to college to job — always making the safest choice which will help her hold on to others’ approval.

On the other hand, growth mindset comes from a perspective that children (and adults) have skills, abilities and strengths that are flexible and are evolving. It comes from an underlying belief that each child might be wired differently but what we focus on grows. Therefore, a child whose skills in math are low can work hard and build them. The focus is on the process, the learning and curiosity rather than reaching excellence.

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