What we get Wrong about Growth Mindset (and why I’m sick of hearing it)

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“We need to have a growth mindset, friends!” the teacher says in her sing-songy voice nearly every day. I hear it while I sit on the couch just a few feet away from my daughter during her online first-period class.  Perhaps it was because I hadn’t finished my first cup of coffee, but I was feeling more than a little irritated to hear it. Not just hear it, but being used incorrectly.  Maybe I was just feeling grumpy, sick and tired of this education buzz word.

growth mindset

Stanford professor Carol Dweck in her book Mindset, describes people who believe that they can learn and get better at something through time, effort and energy as having a growth mindset.  For kids, learning to be resilient, problem solve, embrace challenges – and persist when the going gets tough – these are all excellent skills to have.  A growth mindset has its place in the education system and with parents. 

Feelings and Growth Mindset are not mutally exclusive

A growth mindset doesn’t replace the need to express feelings, nor should it shame people into expressing positivity. I mean, when did it become fashionable to steamroll a child who expresses a less-than-positive-feeling in the name of ‘growth mindset’?  I see this phrase used to unilaterally dismiss expression of feelings.  When did it become wrong to say how you really feel?  To say that something just plain SUCKS?  A person can be resilient and persist on a problem while expressing a negative feeling. It just means they are being honest about how they feel.  And, to suggest that a kid should swallow that feeling in the name of ‘growth’ is absurd.

For the record, I’m not talking about Debbie Downer here, the person who always finds fault in everything, and can’t find anything positive to say.  I’m talking about the ability to be honest about a feeling, even when that feeling is negative. The ability to do so without being publicly “encouraged” to embrace a “growth mindset.”

Frankly, using growth mindset in this way is not only incorrect, it’s dangerous. Suppressing your emotions can have have a negative effecting on your body and mind, including problems with anxiety, depression and aggression, according to studies.

shaming and judgment

This is evident with special needs parents, too.  Being shamed when they talk about the part of their lives that are most difficult.  Judgement immediately cast, or worse, one-upping with a situation that’s arguably far worse.    

I’ve developed a growth mindset because I’m a special needs parent.  No rose colored glasses here.  I am persistent and advocate fiercely.  Learn everything I can on the topics that matter.  I don’t take no for an answer.  Sure, I might go out to my car and cry alone behind the wheel, but it doesn’t stop me.

Who has good days and good days?

And, yes there are days when my kiddo makes me want to tear my hair out.  When she asks me the same question for the 100th time in a row.  Or the bad days that include meltdowns, crying, and yelling. When I get really mad at the world because I can’t change her disability-created frustration.  But that’s OK.  It doesn’t mean I love my kid any less (and neither do you).  It means we are normal, imperfect parents with kids who require 10 times more energy, attention and patience than most.  Expressing that truth doesn’t mean that I lack a growth mindset.

Imperfect, ordinary parents

We are everyday ordinary parents who have learned to navigate special needs as best we can.  We don’t give up.  Ever.

Oh, and, contrary to popular belief, God did not give me a child with a disability because I am some kind of extraordinary being as so many inspirational memes would suggest, but that’s a topic for another post.

grow and feel

It’s great to embrace a growth mindset, and help your kids embrace one too, but at the same time, continue to acknowledge what you’re all feeling. Having a positive attitude surely helps – but shouldn’t be forced in a way that doesn’t help us work through true feelings – and isn’t the crux of what growth mindset really is.

At the end of the day, it’s OK to feel sad, mad, or frustrated and it is important to express it.  Yes, you can express your feelings and still embrace a growth mindset.  And, yes, I may just express mine to that teacher the next time I hear her preach growth mindset to quiet the kids’ honest expressions.

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