Parenting with a Growth Mindset

resized_2010_09010089I wanted to put this out there because I feel that sometimes we fall into that trap of needing to create the perfect portrait of the happy family and anything that mars that image is a sign of failure for us as parents. With social media often only showing the best face of our families, we sometimes forget that the daily struggle is real for everyone of us. So this is my story – you are not alone and nobody has it perfect…

I’ve always thought that if I did everything right – well mostly right (to err is human after all) – I could control how well my child turned out. For the first five years of my parenting career, I lived in this deluded bubble, patting myself on the back for being such a terrific parent. The reality was that I was just a “good enough” parent with a poster child for my first born. He made me look so good that it got to my head.

Hang on a minute… Let me be clear about something – G1 was not an easy baby. He was a high-needs baby. He demanded so much sensitivity in his handling that it was exhausting being his mother (for instance, travelling with him in the car seat was so traumatic that I had it down to an art). I suffered flashbacks when I was pregnant with G2, wondering how I was going to cope with a second high-needs baby. It was not until G1 was nearly three years old that things started to calm down a little and it looked like we were coming out of a very long and dark tunnel. Around about that time, G2 was born. He turned out to be the angel baby – the one that took everything in stride and never fussed – well, he couldn’t have fussed that much because a number of people remarked on how quiet and content he was as a baby.

They say that the arrival of a new baby is always a tough time for the older child. I braced myself for a rough period with G1 in anticipation of the arrival of G2 but G1 handled it so well that the transition could not possibly have gone smoother if we tried. G1 was the perfect older brother who was kind and gentle and loving.

All this didn’t exactly help my ego. I started out with a difficult first baby and it felt like I had somehow tamed the untamable. Then my second child arrived and he was such an easy baby that it felt like I was the baby whisperer. I was the goddess of parenting. I had figured out the secret art of great parenting and that was why my kids were turning out so well.

Then G2 found his legs and my bubble world collapsed faster than a sandcastle in a tidal wave. I was left standing like a guppy out of water, too flabbergasted to know what had happened. Suddenly, I was the mother you hear in the supermarket having to scream after her kids because they were too busy touching everything and running down the aisles. Grocery shopping turned into the Amazing Race where I had to find everything I needed on my shopping list in the shortest time possible and get out of the supermarket before my boys wrought havoc. I had to have a shopping list or I would be sure to forget something after being distracted by my children ten times within the minute. Overnight, I went from the mother with the charming child to the mother with the two monsters.

How could this be? I was such an awesome Mum… How could I possibly be getting it so wrong?

Ever since then, it feels like I’ve been living in the zone for natural disasters, never knowing when the next tsunami or earthquake would hit. I could prepare bunkers and stockpile for the devastation but I could never prevent the damage that was sure to come.

I had forgotten that sometimes, no matter what we do, children will misbehave…

Extrinsic Factors

Children will misbehave when they are tired so it’s important to make sure they get enough sleep. While this is something we can usually control, there are some children who make this task quite a challenge for their parents.

Children will misbehave when they are hungry so make sure you feed them on time to avoid a “hangry” meltdown. It’s easy advice to dispense but sometimes not entirely within our control. Plus, we’re human and mistakes will happen. When they do, we have to recognise them and cut our kids some slack. I know adults who behave poorly when they’re hungry so how can you expect a child to be in complete control of his emotions?

Children will misbehave when they are bored even if it gets them into trouble because getting a negative reaction is better than getting no reaction at all. That doesn’t mean we should always try to keep them from being bored. When our children are little, we pack activities to keep them busy when we know they’re in for a long wait, like at the doctor’s office. Eventually, as our children grow older, we need to hand over the responsibility to them for dealing with their boredom in a positive way. Besides, boredom isn’t all bad – it has been shown to boost creativity.

Intrinsic Factors

Contrary to what was once popular belief, babies are not blank slates, they all react differently to their environment based on their intrinsic nature. While we cannot change the fact that some babies are generally more fussy than others, we can adapt our behaviours to handle them appropriately.

Children will test the boundaries that we set for them because they are looking for security. By pushing against the boundaries that parents set, they are testing to see how dependable we are as parents.

It is important to set boundaries for children. As they grow up, children will push these boundaries to see how far they can go. As parents, our job is to keep these boundaries firmly in place. Now the irony is that although children are hard-wired to keep testing these boundaries such that it appears they would rather not have them there, when parents are lax and do not maintain these boundaries, it creates a frightening environment for a child because they can often feel “out of control”. – Discipline: Setting Boundaries

Again, this is one of those gray areas where it is important to be firm but not too rigid. Exactly where you draw the line depends on the individual dynamics of your family.

Parenting with a Growth Mindset

I was at a seminar recently and the speaker said something that made me realise that I have been parenting with a fixed mindset. Whenever my children misbehave, I react like I’ve failed as a parent.

The best thing we can do as parents is to expect that our children are going to misbehave even if we do everything right – which we won’t. If we can view our children’s misbehaviours as learning experiences, perhaps we can start parenting with a growth mindset. Our children’s misbehaviours are mistakes they can learn from. They also provide opportunities that help us learn to parent better.

I think Makoto Shichida said it best – “Do not regard [your child’s] current phase as a finished one. Believe [your child] will continuously improve” (with help and guidance, of course).

Published by Shen-Li

SHEN-LI LEE is the author of “Brainchild: Secrets to Unlocking Your Child’s Potential”. She is also the founder of (a website on parenting, education, child development) and (a website on Right Brain Education, cognitive development, and maximising potentials). In her spare time, she blogs on Forty, Fit & Fed, and Back to Basics.

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