What to Tell Kids When They Face Failure and Disappointments
NOTE: I’m developing “core values” curriculum for kids, schools, parents, and children’s organizations! This is a sneak peek at some of the research, which is inspiring my program. Please visit my HAPPY KIDS page to find out more!
Do you compliment your kids by saying things like: “You are gifted at being smart.” “You’re born with that talent.” “You’re a natural at ‘this’!” Although these compliments sound like good things to tell kids, they actually can bring about potential problems in the long run. Dr. Carol Dweck suggests parents and teachers implement something called Incremental Theory For Learning instead.
The Cliff Notes:
“Entity Theorists” are folks who attribute success to an innate and unalterable level of ability—a specific entity of talent. “Entity theorists” tend to say things like:
“You are gifted.” “You’re born to succeed.” “You’re a natural!”
Sounds like something nice to say to a kid, right? Well, these kinds of compliments actually bring with them specific problems. Which is why Dr. Dweck is a fan of “Incremental Theorists” instead.
“Incremental Theorists” believe that success is achieved through putting in the necessary hard work. “Incremental Theorists” tend to say things like:
“You achieved ‘this’ because you worked very hard. I’m so proud of you for putting in that extra discipline, effort, patience, and courage—along with your natural abilities.”
According to Dr. Dweck, a big key to a successful life is to embrace being an “Incremental Theorist,” so when failure or disappointments occur, you are ready to put in the necessary discipline, effort, patience, and courage to overcome them!
Basically, discipline, effort, patience, and courage are hugely important core values for kids to grow up embracing.
Dr. Dweck has performed many studies which show that students who are “Entity Theorists” and think of success as something innate and unalterable actually succeed less and fail more, because they are more likely to feel helpless after they fail and then give up.
In contrast, students who are “Incremental Theorists”—thinking of success as requiring long-term discipline, effort, patience, and courage—succeed more over time because they attribute failure to not working hard enough or not seeking help and new insights. As a result, instead of giving up after failure, these students simply work harder, seek insights, and accept support.
In one famous study, students were divided into two groups. One displayed Entity Theory beliefs. The other displayed Incremental Theory beliefs. Both were given an easy math test, which both groups passed with flying colors. Next, both groups were given an impossible math test, which these students would have ZERO possibility of passing. They all failed. Now here’s where this study gets interesting. Next up, a third math test was given to both groups—an absolutely easy math test. This time around, the Entity Theorist group failed because they were so flummoxed by flunking the challenging test before this one. However, the Incremental Theorist group again passed with flying colors because failure did not throw them for a loop.
Why? Because Incremental Theorists wisely accept that SHORT TERM disappointment and SHORT TERM failure are simply some of the inevitable bumps on the LONG TERM road to greatness, and they stay focused on traveling down this LONG TERM road to greatness—energized by those important core values of discipline, effort, patience, and courage.
Michael Jordan once said: “I have missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I have lost almost 300 games. On twenty-six occasions, I have been entrusted to take the winning shot…and missed. I have failed over and over and over again in my life, and that is why…I succeed.”
Michael Jordan is a wonderful example of an Incremental Theorist.
Thomas Edison is also a poster child for Incremental Theory.
Edison famously said: “Results? Why, man, I have gotten lots of results! If I find 10,000 ways something won’t work, I haven’t failed. I am not discouraged, because every wrong attempt discarded is often a step forward…”
Unfortunately, many present day adults were raised as “Entity Theorists.” Hence, you’ve probably heard friends give an “Entity Theorist Brag” about their lack of sweat and effort to achieve a goal. As a result, later—when Entity Theorist Kids grow into Entity Theorist Adults—they can find themselves becoming easily discouraged when disappointments and obstacles pop up on achievement’s roadway.
Basically, whereas “Incremental Theorists” accept that SHORT TERM disappointment and failure are part of their path to success, “Entity Theorists”—with their SHORT TERM LENS vision—value immediate perfectionism and, thereby, wind up falling off their Discipline Wagon when hit with road bumps.
Dr. Dweck believes that because there are so many perkier perks to being an “Incremental Theorist,” children should be raised to consciously recognize that by putting in the core values of greater discipline, effort, patience, and courage, they will always reap greater life rewards.
1. Speak Fluent Incremental Theorist Lingo to Kids
Stop bragging about your lack of sweat and effort in achieving your goals. Start bragging about how hard you work, how patient you’ve become. After a child’s success and/or failure, focus on praising the child’s efforts, not their outcome. For example, if a child gets an A on a math test, you should resist saying: “Wow, you’re so smart in math!” Instead you should say: “I’m so proud of how hard you worked to make this happen. Your natural talent with all the hard work you put in really paid off.” And if a child fails at something, you should never say to them: “Math is just not your strong suit.” Instead, you should say: “You’re so smart and disciplined. I know if you put in a little extra work or study with friends, you can figure out how to score better next time.”
2. Memorize the Following Sentence
Repeat this as often as possible: Celebrate your efforts, not your outcomes!
3. Be an Incremental Theorist Problem Solver
Talk with kids about maintaining a “solution thinking mindset” versus a “problem thinking mindset” or a “complaining thinking mindset” or a “self-hating mindset.”
How do you maintain a “solution thinking mindset?” Focus twenty percent on the problem and eighty percent on solutions. When you have a “solution thinking mindset”—and choose to focus eighty percent of your thoughts and words on solutions—you will not only be heading more speedily to long-term success, but you will immediately feel better in the moment.
Karen Salmansohn is a best selling author, with over 1 million books sold, and founder of the popular inspirational site notsalmon.com. Karen’s on a mission to empower kids to grow into their happiest, kindest, most confident selves. She’s created a powerful anti-bullying and anti-cyberbullying campaign—now going into school buses and school hallways! You can find out more about this campaign by visiting her Happy Kids page on her website.
Plus, Karen has created anti-cyberbullying cellphone covers to remind kids to use their cells responsibly and to “choose to be kind, because a cell won’t rewind.” Find out more about these cellphone covers and the rest of Karen’s stylish line of goods, inspiring people to feel and do good, by clicking here now! You can also connect with Karen on Twitter, Pinterest, or Facebook!
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