Posted By Andrea Masterman, PhD
Being a parent has always been challenging. We aim to support our children, to keep them happy, honest and filled with positive self-esteem. But in recent years, it feels like our society is working against us. We learn everyday, about a new, young superstar… a 22 year old golf prodigy who is handsome, articulate and oh so humble, a young musician who moves audiences to tears with her violin performances, or even a four year old on Facebook who expresses herself with clear insight and intuition.
These constant reminders of “success” in others can easily make a parent anxious. Oftentimes, this anxiety and fear is not even consciously experienced. One might find oneself suddenly demanding that our child practice her piano more regularly, or become overly involved in our teenager’s study habits. We might hear ourselves speaking judgmentally about an amazingly talented friend or a student who is doing poorly. Taking a moment to reflect on where these pressures are coming from will give us a greater sense of control over our interactions with our children.
Compounding the pressures of social media is the national educational trend towards frequent, high stakes testing in our public schools. The experience of being “evaluated” is now commonplace in elementary school children. Some youngsters are even competing to be accepted at nursery school and undergo formal testing as preschoolers. And the pressure mounts with each transition; from elementary school to middle school and then to high school and college. How can parents maintain their equilibrium when the pressures to achieve are so prevalent and unrelenting?
In her book, “Mindset”, Dr. Carol Dweck describes how a parents’ mindset can profoundly affect their children’s approach to learning, success/failure and self-esteem. She describes two mindsets. A fixed mindset is one in which you believe that you have fixed strengths and weaknesses. When you believe that these qualities are fixed, you must work very hard to prove that you really have them. And the pressure to maintain them limits our life experience. It is easy to label our children as bright, athletic, musical or not. Once these labels are affixed, they become a burden for the child. Dweck’s research shows that praising children’s intelligence and talents actually harms their motivation and performance. It encourages them to maintain this fixed mindset. In contrast, a growth mindset is based on the belief that ones basic qualities can grow and develop with effort. Thus, when parents praise their efforts and persistence, children feel less pressure, are able to take risks and are less afraid of showing their deficiencies.
Taking time to learn about your own anxieties, pressures and perhaps fixed mindset can have a huge impact on your developing child. Learning to engage in mindfulness meditation, cognitive behavior therapy or other self-educating activities, can put a pause between your thoughts/beliefs and the actions you take with your children. A therapeutic guide is often a place to start to begin this rewarding process. Whether you choose therapy, or self guided exploration, remember to have compassion for yourself. These are challenging times for maintaining a thoughtful approach. And don’t be afraid to fail… there is always another chance to grow.
To learn more about psychotherapy and coaching services for parents and teens, contact me, Andrea W. Masterman, Ph.D. at 781-449-4215.