Growth Mindset for Children with ADHD, Anxiety, Autism, and Other Challenges– Part 2
In part 1 of our series on growth mindset we learned the difference between fixed and growth mindset, and why this is important to address for children with developmental and mental health challenges such as ADHD, anxiety, autism, and related issues. One of the biggest problems for kids with a fixed mindset is making mistakes. This can be the fear of making mistakes or the inability to manage mistakes that occur. The fear can be so overwhelming that they cannot find the courage to even begin, or don’t stick with the task over the long term. If this describes you or your child, read on to learn some strategies for addressing the next 3 important areas for fostering a growth mindset – courage, persistence and dedication.
- Courage involves doing things that scare you. Life can be scary, especially when you have experienced several failures. It is easy to lose courage when you perceive that all you ever do is make mistakes. Finding the courage to try even when there is a possibility of failure takes great strength and a growth mindset. Fear is one of the biggest factors in rigid thinking, which plagues many children with diagnoses of autism, ADHD, anxiety, and many other disorders. Helping your child break free of fear and find their courage can have a huge impact on his learning and path to success.
- Even the smallest thing – Sometimes we have to start so small that it may feel like we’ll never see the end goal. Trust me, I have been there many times, but with persistence and patience you can get there with even the most rigid and anxious child! Start where your child is competent and take a baby step from there. For example, if your child is afraid to run for fear of falling and getting hurt, then start with walking. Walk to the end of the driveway and back, then walk just a little faster. Increase the speed just a little each time until eventually you are running. This may take days or weeks, but you will get there. Make it fun by turning it into a game. Almost all tasks can be broken down into baby steps, it just takes some thought. The more you do this the easier it becomes and you won’t have to break every task down. As your child gets experience with being successful, he will find his courage to try things without breaking them down into such small pieces.
- Find your courage – Show your child how to be brave by doing something that is scary for you. Talk to your child about how things make you scared and then show them how you are going to work on that fear. I hate heights and anything that resembles a roller coaster, but when I took my daughter to Disney World she really wanted me to ride on the Dumbo ride with her. She knows that these rides scare me, but I want her to see that we can concur our fears and be brave, so I went with her. Not only did we ride on Dumbo, but we rode on Aladdin’s magic carpets as well. Do I want to do this all the time, “no,” but will I do it again for my daughter, “yes.” When this happened, we talked about how this was scary for me, but I did it. I want her to see that sometimes this are scary, but we can try them and be there to support each other.
- Persistence – Sticking with something even when it is difficult or obstacles arise is a crucial life skill. It can be so hard to stay with something that is really hard to do or when you hit a road block. We’ve all had times when when just wanted to give up on a task because it wasn’t turning out the way we planned or things just kept going wrong. Giving up is easier than sticking with it, and doesn’t require as much effort. Teaching our children to have a persistent attitude will serve them well throughout life. This does not mean that it isn’t a good idea to take a break from a really tough task and come back to it later. It also doesn’t mean that we should never ask for help. Sometimes being persistent can mean doing both of these things.
- Preview and Review difficult tasks with your child. When you know a task is going to present some challenges for your child it is helpful to talk about the job ahead of time. Spend time brainstorming ideas for accomplishing the task. Think through which ideas might work the best and then gather the materials needed. While the task may still be challenging, your child will likely persist through the task because he had a plan before beginning. After the job is done, take a few minutes to review. Talk about what went well, what was still difficult and what he might change next time. Be sure to provide feedback on how persistent your child was!
- Family Projects can encourage persistence. I recently had a family that redid an attic space in their house. It was a whole family project from start to finish and lasted over several weeks. One particular job they did as a family was to paint the space. It was a large space and required two coats of primer before the actual paint could be applied. t took 3 days to paint the entire room, but the family worked together and persisted through the task even though it was difficult at times. This was a great way for the parents to demonstrate and encourage persistence in their children. Your project may be smaller in scope, but still provide some challenges that need to be worked through. Anytime your child is able to observe and practice persistence in a supportive environment the better he will become at persisting on his own.
- Dedication requires the ability to stay with something over a period of time. Seeing a task through to completion and remaining committed to it shows dedication. Volunteering in your child’s classroom and showing up every week at your assigned time shows dedication. When your child practices her piano lesson every evening in preparation for the next lesson she is showing dedication. Sometimes dedication is difficult, especially when things are hard or last over the course of several weeks or months. Try these ideas for helping your child build their dedication muscle:
- Set Achievable Goals – It can be very difficult to stick with a task that seems too big and overwhelming. By breaking tasks down into smaller steps, it can make the job seem less overwhelming and encourage dedication. For example, if your child has a big project for social studies due in two weeks and she is struggling with knowing where to start and feeling defeated, take a few minutes to map out the project in smaller parts. Determine a time line for when she will work on each step. You may need to help your child get started and then check in throughout the project to ensure she is completing each piece along the way. If she is still struggling you may need to adjust the timeline. Celebrate her dedication as she completes the little steps and when the whole project is complete.
- Learn a New Skill – Maybe you have always wanted to learn how to play a musical instrument, but just never had the opportunity or maybe you have always wanted to learn to knit; now is the chance to do that and also demonstrate dedication. It takes dedication to learn something new, as regular practice is generally required. By making the commitment to practicing on a regular basis you are showing your child what it means to be dedicated. This is a great opportunity to talk about your dedication and what you are hoping to achieve. You can provide other examples and discuss ways that your child shows dedication or explore opportunities for your child to be dedicated. Better yet – learn to do something new together!
When you are able to help children find the courage to face their fears, a world of possibilities begins to open up. When they stay stuck in their “safe” but rigid worlds, they lose out on so many new experiences. Helping your child to take just one small step at a time can teach him how to have courage, dedication, and persistence.