It was my oldest daughter Rayne’s 18 month check with the health visitor when she asked me if Rayne was recognising nursery rhymes. “She don’t just recognise them” I said with pride, “she sings them!” Everywhere we went people would comment on how advanced Rayne was and I was so proud of her.
At 9 months old we volunteered to be assessed by trainee psychologists, the report confirmed that Rayne was performing above average for most developmental milestones. My daughter was clever and that is what I told her every day! Every time she mastered a new puzzle, said a new word or learnt a new number, I would tell her how clever she was. In fact it was not only me telling her, it was her dad, her grandparents, her nursery teachers and pretty much anyone who spent enough time with her!! Praising her intelligence was so important to me. I wanted her to know how proud I was of her, to encourage her to develop and grow and continue to learn. I had such high hopes for her future, believing she could do anything she wanted. Telling her she was clever was part of that process. Right?
Wrong!!! At the beginning of year 1, at the age of 5, Rayne came home from school one day very upset. Rayne told me her teacher did not like her because she had made her rub something out that she got wrong and start again. She was supposed to write a question to a policeman but instead she wrote “I like you”. The teacher told her to rub it out because it was not a question. We talked about how the teacher was correct in pointing out that “I like you” was not a question then we talked about how her teacher could have dealt with the situation better so that it did not make Rayne feel so upset. This was the first of a few occasions where she came home upset so I decided to contact the school about it. I wanted them to know that Rayne was a very bright child and her teacher’s approach was some how not working for her.
I spoke to the deputy headteacher and explained the situation. He too agreed that Rayne was a bright child then asked me a question that changed my life:
That night I discovered at the age of 5 Rayne had a fixed mindset and a definite fear of failure. I learnt that in order for a child to develop a growth mindset you need to praise the effort that has gone into something rather than the end result. So basically the last 5 years of telling her how clever she was and praising every little achievement was setting her up to be afraid of making mistakes, afraid of other people thinking she was not bright or clever anymore if she didn’t know something straight away and worst of all, afraid of trying.
“Praising children’s intelligence harms motivation and it harms performance” Carol Dweck
My eyes were now open and I could see how her fear of failure was affecting her at home as well as at school. I needed to help her and I knew the first thing I had to do was tell her that there is no such thing as “clever”. We sat down and I explained that mummy had made a mistake. I said I thought she was clever but I have since learnt that there is no such thing. I explained that everyone has to work at things and nobody is expected to know how to do something the first time they do it. As she listened with interest it really seemed as though a weight had lifted. “So there is no such thing as clever?” She asked me in a contemplating tone. “Nope, mummy made a mistake and that is OK because mistakes are a part of learning”. She giggled then carried on with what she was doing.
All that was left now was working out how to help Rayne get from a fixed to a growth mindset. What a journey to begin! We started by joining an online community called Lights On where we learnt how to change how to communicate and how to focus on Rayne’s passions.
Does this sound similar to your child or to your situation? I would love to hear your story
I am a mum of 2 daughters. I recently gave up my 9-5 job of 14 years to home school my children. My dream is for my family to become world schoolers, travelling around the world and learning as we go! I love blogging about our life, sharing our wins and fails. I hope some of the things I blog about inspire you along the way