Note: The following is an excerpt from the Rosy Window, online guided imagery course for parents and caregivers. Full course available summer 2020.
We all want the best for our children and being a positive, and effective guide on their journey is an important, yet daunting task, to say the least. When asking what we can do to support them in becoming the best versions of themselves, the answers are never easy, and are often different for each child and each family. However, there are a couple overarching themes when it comes to improving the life of a child. Successful adults can often attribute their accomplishments and happiness to one or both of the following: possessing a growth mindset and having a supportive person in their lives to whom they can look up to and feel important around, i.e., a mentor.
The Power of a Mentor
When researching resilience in children, one of the common factors was mentoring. Resilient children often had at least one adult take notice, and step in to support them in some meaningful way (Bellis et al., 2017). In Rom Brafmans book, Unlikely Success: Why Some People Flourish Where Most Others Fail (2011) he calls these people “satellites”. These ‘satellite’ people offer constant, unconditional support and acceptance, “with no strings attached” (Brafman, 2011, ch. 7). Meaning that they regard, in this case, the child with positivity and offer their time and caring while expecting nothing in return.
Brafman (2011), goes on to site studies in the workplace, orphanages, and in organizations like Big Brothers & Big Sisters, where, “the presence of a supportive, satellite figure is one of the differentiating variables that separate those who overcome life's obstacles, from those who succumb to them”(ch. 7).
In the case of Big Brothers & Big Sisters, a one and a half year study by Tierney, Grossman & Resch (2000), looked at a group of children paired with a Big Brother or Sister, and a control group of children who remained on the waiting list. The results showed that children actively participating in the program were 45.8% less likely to use drugs, 32% less likely to engage in violence, missed 52% less days of school and were reported to lie to their parents 37% less often (p. 20-28).
Mentors are not just for those children deemed ‘at risk’ or ‘in need’. Studies and interviews with a number of high-achieving adults, show that having a mentor with the correct qualities can help build confidence and success in anyone at any age. A study conducted by Ellen A. Fugensun of George Mason University, showed that adults who had mentor in the workplace contributed greatly to career growth, no matter their job position or level (Brafman, 2011, ch. 7). The Handbook of Youth Mentoring Second Edition (2013), shows how a mentor can help to develop the positive strengths and mindsets associated with building social and behavioral skills as well as cognitive abilities (this entire handbook is an amazing resource and can be found online in Google Play or through Amazon).
Growth Mindset vs. Fixed Mindset
In her book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, Dr. C. S. Dweck outlines the two types of mindset held by children (and adults); fixed and growth. With a fixed mindset, the person views intelligence as a set trait and something that does not, or cannot change over time. These types of children believe that they are as smart as they are ever going to be, and that is that.
Growth mindset children, on the other hand, see intelligence as something that can be developed. They believe that learning and practice can lead to having a higher level of intelligence and this belief lends itself to a number of positive traits including a desire to learn, perseverance and a tendency to embrace change (p. 245). Most importantly, children with a growth mindset view failure as a learning opportunity, rather than a personal statement on how smart or capable they are. Cultivating a growth mindset in your children is invaluable, not only in increasing their chances of success, but in supporting a healthy vision of who they are as a person and what they can achieve.
Practical Application: Giving your child the advantage.
The following are some simple ways you can facilitate a growth mindset in your child, as well as information on how and where to find a “satellite” figure or mentor. It should again be noted that these two strategies are not reserved for those children who we deem “in need” of extra support, believing that intelligence can evolve and be improved is a mindset that breeds success and personal fulfillment in anyone and everyone. And having a mentor, an outside influence with the aforementioned traits is again, an advantage to all people, no matter their age, station, aspirations, desires or personal views. Mentors and growth mindsets are an asset for everyone.
Two Keys to Fostering a Growth Mindset
As a caregiver, teacher or friend, one key to helping children in believing that intellectual growth is possible, is to demonstrate the belief; be the example. So what does that look like?
1. Embrace failure and learn from it. In an interview with Sara Blakely, the founder of the multi-national, billion dollar Spanx company she attributes much of her success to the way her father viewed failure as highly valuable. Dinner conversation often centred on what each family member failed at that day and what they would do differently next time. These chats led Sarah to adopt a key aspect of a growth mindset, and use her failures as scaffolding to reach her goals. Each unsuccessful endeavor meant a way to learn and improve. (Robbins, 2020).
Discussing failure in this light is a great practice and one you can begin right away. Remember that it is important to not only adopt this approach with things your child may be struggling with, but also with your own failed attempts as well. Talk about something you tried that did not go as planned, and be sure to think aloud, or discuss what you learned from the experience, and what you will do differently next time. There is zero shame in failure. It is how we learn. Help your child break down their mistakes, misadventures and disappointments in a positive, productive way, gathering the important information to make a better plan for next time.
2. Practice Productive Praise. When your child is successful, the way you react to their success and the form your praise takes is important. There are several schools of thought on praise, and in keeping with our goal of fostering a growth mindset, we look at the advice shared by Dr. Dweck (2006), give praise in a way that comments on the child’s efforts and achievements, rather than their personality traits (p.178). This means using statements such as, “All of your practice and hard work really paid off! Look how well you’ve done on this test!” rather than, “Great job on this test! You’re so smart”.
The first statement leaves room for having a productive conversation and pride in themselves, no matter the outcome of the test. If they were disappointed with their mark, the conversation could address the amount of hardwork and practice the child has done already, and how and what they could do differently in the future to improve. Adversely, if you praise the good test results by attributing it to their level of intelligence, if they are disappointed with the marks they got they will blame themselves for not being “smart enough”. This will potentially lead them to view the test results as out of their hands and not seek ways to do better next time.
Helpful words and phrases:
1. Becoming a mentor: Roles and Traits. As mentioned before, the basic traits of a mentor or satelite person are as follows:
2. Finding a mentor. While being a role model for your children is paramount, one of the key elements of children having a satellite person in their life is that they are, or are perceived as, someone on the ‘outside’ of the immediate family circle. This can mean anything from a grandparent to a coach, but does not often imply an immediate caregiver. So where can we find that person for our children?
These two elements of success will not only impact what your child can and will achieve, but who they will become. The mental health benefits to having a mentor are well documented and possessing a growth mindset, as we have discussed, lends itself to many positive character traits and personal beliefs.
The references listed below include some fantastic books and articles on these topics and more in the areas of success, and resilience in children. Further reading and research is always encouraged!
Bellis, M. A., Hardcastle, K., Ford, K., Hughes, K., Ashton, K., Quigg, Z., & Butler, N. (2017). Does continuous trusted adult support in childhood impart life-course resilience against adverse childhood experiences - a respective study on adult health-harming behaviours and mental well-being. BMC Psychiatry. 17(110), 1-12. DOI 10.1186/s12888-017-1260-z
Brafman, R. (2011). Unlikely success: Why some people flourish where most others fail. Penguin Random House Audio Publishing Group.
Canfield, J. (2005). The success principles: How to get from where you are to where you want to be. Collins.
Dubois, D. L., & Karcher, M. J. (Ed.). (2013). Handbook of youth mentoring.(2nd ed.). SAGE Publications.
Dwech, C. S. (2006). Mindset: The new psychology of success. Ballantine Books.
Ferriss, T. (2016). Tools of titans: Tactics, routines, and habits of billionaires, icons, and world-class performers. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
Robbins, T. (Host). (2020, March 9). Start small, think big, scale quickly [Audio podcast episode]. In The Tony Robbins podcast. Robbins Research Institute. https://tonyrobbins.libsyn.com/start-small-think-big-scale-quickly-spanx-founder-sara-blakely-on-how-to-bootstrap-a-billion-dollar-business
Tierney, P. J., Grossman, J. B., & Resch, N. L. (2000). Making a difference: An impact study of big brothers big sisters. Public/Private Ventures. Retrieved from https://www.researchgate.net/publication/242542499_Making_a_Difference_An_Impact_Study_of_Big_Brothers_Big_Sisters
Who we are. (2014). Big Brothers Big Sisters International. Retrieved January 20202, from http://www.bbbsi.org/about-us/
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