Are you a worried mother?
A new study from Stanford University researchers Kyla Haimovitz and Carol Dweck suggests that kids draw their attitudes about failure. Whether it’s enhancing or debilitating from their mother or father, tt’s a clue. It’s a clue as to how children construct their internal views about intelligence and ability, and whether they should be focusing on validating their brilliance or actually learning things.
“When parents believe failure is a bad thing, they may respond to signs of their child struggling with worries about their ability and performance,” Haimovitz tells Science of Us, noting that kids pick up on those vibes. “[Worrying] sends the message that intelligence is something that’s mostly fixed, that even just an instance of poor performance should be worrying. Whereas a parent who views failure as enhancing will approach her child’s performance with a focus on how to learn or improve.” It comes down to what parents choose to focus on when their kids are having trouble: Do they talk about their ability? Perhaps about the process of learning itself?
A study about how worry affects our kids.
In their new study, Dweck and Haimovitz recruited parents online through children’s schools and Mechanical Turk. They also recruited in person at Bay Area malls and community centers. One of the most compelling experiments was asking parents to vividly imagine how they’d respond to their kid coming from from school with a failing grade on a math quiz.
The parents who had the more constructive take on a failing grade focused on process. They say things like “I encourage my child to tell me what she learned from doing poorly.”
Or “I’d discuss whether it would be useful to ask the teacher for help.”
The mother or father with a failure-is-debilitating mind-set greet that news by worrying. They worry that the child isn’t good at the subject. Perhaps they’d say, “Hey, honey, it’s okay if you’re not the most talented person in every single subject.”
“These are well-intentioned practices,” Haimovitz reasons. “They’re trying to comfort their child. But it’s sending the message, you don’t have enough ability, and you’re not going to.”
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