By Jess Burnett Founder of Mind Traction, Mum of 3 and Secondary School Teacher
As a Secondary School Teacher, I have stood in countless classrooms, desperately trying to motivate students just to put in a little bit of effort! The kids I am referring to are ones who will try every-trick-in-the-book to avoid doing any work. They will turn up to class with no pen, no book and no electronic device. Why? Because despite the best efforts of teachers, having no equipment makes it extremely difficult for them to complete any truly productive work!
The action of turning up to class without the necessary materials is often not a reflection of their financial means to have the materials, but rather a choice. Why would a child make this choice? There are a few reasons, but the biggest one is fear, usually fear of ‘looking dumb’ to their peers. Often this fear also resonates in their behaviour choices in class. Bad behaviour in children of any age can usually be linked back to their mindset, their self-belief and their fear. Sadly though, these behavioural issues are generally only addressed through disciplinary action. The mindset component is completely missed, not providing the child with an opportunity to feel supported, understood and to grow.
I came across a student recently who always seemed to misbehave in a particular science class where I was providing support. He never had his materials, never engaged in the lesson content and spent most of his time trying to disrupt other students. The surprising thing was that he seemed like a friendly kid! I engaged in a conversation with the student, and as I dug a little deeper, I discovered that he was achieving well in many of his other subjects. When I asked him why his effort and behaviour were so different in science, his response struck me, “I suck at science, and I’m never going to need it.” There was the underlying issue! He felt that he could not learn science. In his other subject areas, he was achieving well academically and was near the top of the class, but in science, it was easier to pretend that he didn’t care than appear to struggle infront of his friends and peers. As we continued our conversation, he enlightened me on his parent’s feelings explaining, “they don’t care that I fail science because I do well in my other subjects.”
Sadly, this is the situation for many students. Their unwillingness to try is usually a result of fear over what others might think, particularly their peers. It is heartbreaking when you hear them admit, “I don’t want to try because I don’t want to look dumb.” I’ve heard it many times. What makes things worse is that this is a learned mindset and a learned behaviour; no one is born with a fear of looking dumb! Somewhere along their journey, they have had limiting beliefs placed upon them, which have led them to believe that their traits, skills and talents are fixed, and therefore there is no point trying in specific fields.
I am not saying that we need to start blaming parents for creating limiting beliefs in their kids! Parenting is the most challenging job out there, and we need to support each other.
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I will never forget the sinking feeling I felt when I recognized that my (generally over-achieving) daughter didn’t want to participate in her swimming lessons anymore because she had recognised that she was not the best in the class. Admittedly, it took me a little while to uncover why she had suddenly started misbehaving and throwing tantrums every time we arrived at the swim school. She had been going to swimming since she was a baby and had always LOVED it!
After some deep reflection and some long conversations, I realized that she had reached an age where she now recognized that the other kids in the class had developed a higher skill level, and were effectively ‘better’ than her. Heartbreaking as it was, it was also a relief to finally understand her feelings, emotions and mindset and we were able to act. She was NOT just being ‘naughty’. We were able to turn her mindset around and help her overcome her fear. With this swift action, she started to thrive and began to work harder than she had ever worked before.
So how did we use her fear as a driving force to put in more effort and get her to recognize that with practice, she will improve? And how can you support your child to understand that effort is vital and without effort we achieve nothing?
Ideally, we need to start young, although it is never too late. Even if you have a teenager like the student mentioned above in my science class, it is possible to turn things around and encourage them to face their fears. We must start by teaching our children that we only learn and get better at something by making an effort. Making an effort means practicing, working hard, trying different strategies and asking for help when needed. Talk about effort with your children regularly!
If your children are young, explain (and explain often!) that when you learn something new, the cells inside your brain create a brand new pathway between each other. Every time you practice, a unique signal travels along this new pathway. The more you practice, the easier it is for the signal to move because the path becomes more familiar. If you don’t put in the effort and practice, your brain can’t create these essential pathways!
If you would like some help explaining the concept of developing neural pathways and why it is important to your kids, check out my YouTube channel Mind Traction TV. The videos on this channel are fun, informative, and meant for growing little minds. Visit my channel HERE. If you and your little ones enjoy the videos, subscribe so you can always be the first to know when there is new content!
If your children are older, talk about successful people in a field of their interest. Teach them about the journey those successful people took to get there. If they follow basketball, ask them if they knew that Michael Jordan was cut from his high school basketball team. If they are into film, do they know that Walt Disney was fired from a newspaper for “lacking imagination” and “having no original ideas?” If they love science, tell them that Albert Einstein wasn’t able to speak until he was almost 4-years-old, and his teachers said he would “never amount to much.” Research some famous failures together to help them recognize that we see the success above the water’s surface, but we rarely see the effort, persistence and hard work that happens below the surface.
Regardless of our child’s age, it is essential to ensure that we choose our words wisely in our discussions. We need to be honest and truthful in explaining that yes, perhaps another child is better, but maybe they have been training harder and for longer. Be real in explaining that everyone is running their OWN race; some run a sprint to achieve success, while for others, it is a marathon. Regardless of the journey, with effort, strategy and support, everyone can get to where they want to be. Remind your child regularly that the only person they should ever compare themselves against is the person they were yesterday. So as long as they are putting in more effort towards achieving their goal today than they did yesterday, then they are winning.
“I can accept failure, everyone fails at something. But I can’t accept not trying.”
– Michael Jordan
Teaching our kids EFFORT is one of the most important skills we can gift them because, in life, most people don’t fail to succeed; instead, they fail to put in the effort to succeed.
“I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”
– Michael Jordan.
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