How to Be the Person That You Want Your Child to Grow Up to Be

Parents as Role Models: Be the kind of parent that your kids will want to walk in your shoes(This article is part of our series on Mindset.)

Admit it. Irrespective of whether you are confident or not about your parenting, you wonder at times — am I parenting the right way?

Being a parent puts a lot of pressure on most of us. Raising kids is a responsibility that is both marvelously uplifting and crushingly stressful. Kids have this amazing ability to bring out the best, and the worst in us, in a heartbeat. We are pillars of strength one minute, and brought down to our knees by our weaknesses the next.

If you’ve been parenting for any length at all, you know that there is no one single parenting style or philosophy that can quite address the breadth of our aspirations or the depth of fears in its entirety.

So of course there isn’t one simple straightforward answer to the question of whether we are parenting the right way… and sadly, that often keeps us spinning our wheels.

Which is why, I find Brené Brown’s take on this in the book Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead, very captivating. In Brene’s words,

The question isn’t so much “Are you parenting the right way?” as it is: “Are you the adult that you want your child to grow up to be?”

For many of us however, the answer comes up as “No”. Knowing all our flaws and imperfections intimately, many of us want much more for our kids and hope that they will grow up to be far better people than we ourselves are.

Being a role model isn’t easy, and it scares the living daylight out of most of us!

We wish we were perfect and could say “My child, I’ll show you how it’s done. I’ll show you how to live a marvelously happy and fulfilled life”.

But we can’t. So most of us end up with some variant of – “My child, I’ll tell you how it’s done. Now go on, follow my advice, live a marvelously happy and fulfilled life and make me proud!

Here’s the thing – and we all know it too – kids don’t learn from what we tell them, they learn from watching what we do. Every single minute of every single day.

So, whether we want to or not, we are role models.

Given that, what if we could instead learn to say, “My child, I’ve been around a little longer. Lord knows I’ve made my share of mistakes but thankfully I’ve learnt a thing or two. I’m trying to implement what I’ve learnt in our lives so we can live a marvelously happy and fulfilled life. Come along, I’ll show you what I know and let’s figure out the rest together.”

Of course, we won’t use those exact words, but when we put it that way, being a role model doesn’t feel so scary, does it?

And we do make far better role models too. Not ones who are perfect and know all the right answers. But ones that bring out the best, inspire and motivate.

Like the scarecrow, the tinman or the lion in the Wizard of Oz. Or a good coach.

What better context to try this in than the discussion we had last week about what every (great) parent should know about the mindset of success?

A Quick Overview of the Mindsets (From Parent’s Perspective)

According to Dr. Carol Dweck in the book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, we all possess one of the two mindsets – a fixed mindset where we believe that our core personality, character, talent, abilities and intelligence are fixed or a growth mindset where we believe that we are all essentially works-in-progress and can grow into what we want to be with effort and intentional action.

Since people with fixed mindset believe that they are one way or the other, the little successes and setbacks they face in life define their identity.

For instance, when your toddler throws a tantrum in a grocery store or an older child acts like a brat when you have company, if it makes you wonder what you deserved to have such a pig-headed child, or makes you question your abilities as a parent, chances are you are stuck in a fixed mindset.

If you can keep your head cool, realize that your child is just venting out some frustration and realize that the best option for you is to find some space where you can provide your child the support he/she needs to talk about this frustration and learn to deal with it more effectively in the future, you have a growth mindset.

In my personal opinion, at any given point in time, most of us fluctuate between the fixed and the growth mindsets. Also, we may possess a strong fixed mindset regarding one topic (eg. My son will never learn how to dance well — he was born with two left feet!) and an equally strong growth mindset about something else (eg. My son’s been working hard at school and getting better at math with each passing day!).

Overall though, people with a higher degree of the growth mindset are better adjusted to life — they are more humble and grateful for their good fortunes and successes; and more graceful and resilient during misfortunes and setbacks (think John Mc Enroe vs Micheal Jordon).

So, let’s spend a few quick minutes now to look at how to cultivate more of a growth mindset in ourselves, so over the course of the rest of the month we can learn how to raise our kids to have the growth mindset.

How to Cultivate a Growth Mindset

On her website, Dr. Dweck suggests these 4 steps to cultivate the growth mindset.

Step #1: Learn to hear your fixed mindset “voice.”

Step #2: Recognize that you have a choice.

Step #3: Talk back to it with a growth mindset voice.

Step #4: Take the growth mindset action.

If you started following this mindset series last week, you have probably gotten better by now in recognizing your fixed mindset “voice”. (If not, it’s not late… reading the rest of the article will automatically get you started now! :))

What we will do today, is take an example scenario, look at a few possible fixed mindset responses and look for ways to replace them with growth mindset responses.

OK, here we go –

Example Scenario: A Parent in Trouble

Growth Mindset for ParentsThis is a scenario I found myself in while I was reading the mindset book. I am embarrassed to admit — I actually didn’t do too well while I was in the situation :( It has however served as a great example for me to explore the different mindsets. To really get the most of this, try to put yourself in this scenario. Put faces on the other parents and if you have more than one kid, pick one to picture in your mind as you walk through the scenario.

OK, let’s say, you are at birthday party of one of your kid’s classmates. The kids are all playing by themselves and you parents get a few minutes to have a nice chat. One of the parents looks a bit worried. When pressed he confides that the school has asked them to come in for a parent-teacher conference because his daughter has not been able to keep up with the class work.

What would you think? What would your response be?

Situation 1: Your child has been doing well in class and you’ve never been called into a conference.

  • Fixed Mindset Response:

    You think to yourself, “Oh, poor Ana. She always looked like she was on the “slow” side. Thank goodness our Johnny is so smart and I don’t have to deal with these issues. Quick, say something nice to help this poor dad, without gloating about how intelligent little Johnny is!”

  • Alternate Growth Mindset Response:

    Instead of this line of thought, can you honestly say to the worrying father: “Don’t worry. I know Ana is a hard working child. Something about the class has not captured her imagination properly or is distracting her this year. Maybe you could talk with the teacher to see how to make studying interesting to her again.”

Explanation:

The key here is to see a situation as it is. This is not about how “slow” Ana is or how “smart” Johnny is. If Johnny has been doing good, he has just found a way to stay engaged and learn. Ana hasn’t been doing well because she hasn’t found the right motivation. Every child inherently can learn if they are provided the right reason to. Simple. Is there a way you can internalize that? Is there some way you can help the other dad see that?

Situation 2: Your child hasn’t been doing too well in class either but you’ve not been called into a conference yet.

  • Fixed Mindset Response:

    You think to yourself, “Oh gosh, I didn’t know they called in parents for a conference if the kids don’t do well in school. Johnny hasn’t been doing well on the past few tests. I don’t want to be called in for a conference! What am I going to do with this irresponsible kid? I am sick of trying to tell him to pay attention to the questions in the test. He is really smart. If he could just keep his head screwed on right, he could ace those tests without any effort! Arrrgh…”

  • Alternate Growth Mindset Response:

    Can you think along the lines: “Wow, I didn’t know they called in parents for a conference if the kids don’t do well in school. That’s neat — it shows that the teachers and the school is invested in my child’s learning. Johnny hasn’t been doing well on the past few tests. I wonder if they will call me in. I need to discuss with them how he has not been paying attention to the questions while doing homework as well. Maybe his teachers can give me some pointers or we can come up with a few options to try together. Johnny sure can use some help!”

Explanation:

In this case, you do think about your child, but how you do is starkly different.

In the fixed mindset, your thoughts are a niggling worry, a judgment of the kind of parent you are and how irresponsible your child is, or excuses about how smart he can be “if only…”. Also notice the “without any effort” part? That’s usually a dead giveaway that you are reacting from a fixed mindset where being “naturally” good at something is hailed and too much effort is seen as a sign of incompetence.

In the growth mindset, you acknowledge the situation for what it is and look for ways to help your child be the best he can be. You see value in what the teachers and the school does and you try to work with them to come up with a solution that will be a win-win for everyone involved.

Situation 3: Your child hasn’t been doing too well in class and you’ve already had a conference.

  • Fixed Mindset Response:

    You think to yourself, “Oh my, I don’t like the direction this conversation is going. I don’t want to tell them that last month we were called in for a conference. I don’t want them to know how dumb my little Johnny is. They’ll think I’m a lousy parent because I can’t even teach basic math to my son right. Quick, think of something to change the topic…”

  • Alternate Growth Mindset Response:

    Can you honestly say to the worrying father: “Ouch, I know how that feels. You know, we were called in last month. It turned out that Johnny was getting easily distracted and wasn’t paying attention to what the teachers were saying. The conference was very helpful… with the help of the teachers we were able to come up with these ideas to help keep Johnny from getting distracted and it has been helping him a lot. He’s been putting in a lot of effort and starting to see the improvement in his performance! He is so proud of himself and it is motivating him to keep pushing further”

Explanation:

It’s OK to be vulnerable and authentic. There is no shame in this. Everyone struggles at times.

Figure out a way to deal with your situation in a growth-minded manner, and then dare to share it with others. If they think your child is dumb or you are an incompetent parent, then its a reflection of their fixed mindset. Don’t worry, they’ll come around when the time is right for them. On the other hand, if that other parent is also growth-minded, you’ll learn and grow together. Suddenly, your child has more champions than you thought possible – you and your spouse; the teachers and the school; and now this new set of parents who will share all the neat tricks they’ve figured out! And as this ripples out, chances are, the number of champions your child has will keep growing. Can you see how powerfully beautiful this can be?

In Conclusion…

In case you are wondering, the situation I faced was a combination of #1 and #3 — we had been called into a conference earlier in the year but it was about a behavior issue instead of the issue of keeping up with class work. And yes, embarrassing as it is, in that moment, I was all judgmental about the other kid perhaps being “slow” and my kid being “smart”, while at the same time trying to hide that my kid was sometimes too “bossy” in class. It’s amazing how these labels creep into our thoughts without us even noticing it when we are stuck in the fixed mindset. Well, I’m learning to switch to the growth mindset. It’s been slow, but steady progress – that’s our motto, right?

OK, let’s stop here for this week. As you continue to ponder your part as the role model in your kids lives, and work on developing a growth mindset… remember it’s not about being perfect, it’s simply putting one foot in front of the other in the right direction!

Next week, we’ll look at some specific scenarios of how to praise our kids the right way without spoiling them, so they can cultivate in themselves a growth mindset so be sure to come back. (If you haven’t already done so, sign up here to receive free notification of the followup articles directly in your mailbox.)

The 2-Minute Action Plan for Fine Parents

It’s time for our quick action. Take the next 2 minutes to think of one scenario in your life lately where you had a fixed-mindset response (It does not have to be related to parenting). Spend a few minutes to think –

  • What was my inner fixed mindset voice saying?
  • What was I really worried about?
  • Does it really matter?
  • How does it keep me from moving forward or achieving something worthwhile?
  • What other ways can I think about this?
  • What is the one action I can take right now to move forward in this scenario?

This isn’t an exam. There are no right or wrong answers. It is just a simple exercise to get you thinking and acting with a growth mindset. Go ahead try it… and if you feel up to it, do share it in the comments below, so we can all learn from each other!

The Ongoing Action Plan for Fine Parents

As you go through the week, keep this discussion at the back of your mind. Inspect your thought patterns, hesitation, resistance and response to situations to see whether they are rooted in the fixed mindset. When you catch yourself coming at things from the fixed mindset, try and consciously choose an alternate growth mindset response. And remember, it is OK to fail — being able to see failure as the stepping stone to success is after all the best indication that you are really growing into the growth mindset :).

 

 

Image Credit: John Mc Enroe’s and Michael Jordon’s images are courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons search. Other pictures are from fotolia.

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Comments

  1. says

    Dear Sumitha, thank you for this post and honestly sharing your experience. I completely agree that long before our children can even understand certain concepts they are watching how we act. In a way, it works towards our advantage because like you said it doesn’t require research or planning its just about being the person you want to be/the person you want to kids to be. Not only will they benefit from having a great role model, you benefit by living your life in the way you always wanted (and what better motivation could you have than the future of your children?) Thanks to being a role model I have gotten healthier, more positive, more creative and more mindful (and I am still a work in progress). I have never heard of the two mindsets before I find that interesting. I have often seen situations in those terms but thought of it in terms of positive vs negative or internalizing vs externalizing so I am keen to read up on it. Best wishes and thank you so much for linking to my article (it is one of the best compliments I have ever gotten!). Shannon

    • Sumitha Bhandarkar says

      Hi Shannon, I love the way you put it — “you benefit by living your life in the way you always wanted (and what better motivation could you have than the future of your children?)”. This is one of the things I never realized before having my daughter and now as I look back, it has been one of the biggest benefits of having a child :)

      Glad to have introduced you to Carol Dweck’s concept of mindsets — it’s one of those things that made me go “aha” and resulted in a big shift in my world view. And for some strange reason, when someone says “I hadn’t heard of it before, and I will read more on it” — it makes me very happy :)

      Anyway, take care, and I’ll see you around. Enjoy the weekend!

  2. A says

    You can delete this after you read it if you want. I found your site through the Pat Flynn article. I just wanted to tell you that I love the look of the site structure but the colors are very cold/corporate looking. You would probably find more popularity with a softer color scheme that is more frequently used to target your intended demographic. The current design is a little harsh and it’s hard to get to your message.

    • Sumitha Bhandarkar says

      Thank you, A. This is just the kind of feedback I am always looking for and appreciate the time you took to share it with me. I am on a tight budget and can’t hire a designer now, but this is exactly the nudge I needed to look into an alternate theme! Thanks :)

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