Observing Parents Accept Failure Helps Kids Become Life-long Learners

Jim Liebelt

*The following is excerpted from an online article posted on PsychCentral.

Teaching kids that they need to be a life-long learners is not an easy task. Even more difficult may be instilling an appreciation in children that failure is often a way we learn.

New research suggests parents’ beliefs about whether failure is a good or a bad thing can guide how their children think about their own intelligence.

Investigators found that it’s parents’ responses to failure, and their beliefs about intelligence, that are ultimately absorbed by their kids.

“Mindsets — children’s belief about whether their intelligence is just fixed or can grow — can have a large impact on their achievement and motivation,” explains psychological scientist Kyla Haimovitz of Stanford University, first author on the study.

“Our findings show that parents can endorse a growth mindset but they might not pass it on to their children unless they have a positive and constructive reaction to their children’s struggles.”

Despite considerable research on mindsets, scientists have found little evidence to suggest that intelligence mindsets are handed down to children from their parents and teachers.

Haimovitz and psychology researcher Carol Dweck, hypothesized that parents’ intelligence mindsets might not transfer to their kids because they aren’t readily observable.

What kids might see and be sensitive to, the researchers speculated, is their how parents feel about failure.

Haimovitz and Dweck surmised that parents convey their views about whether failure is positive or negative through their responses to their children’s setbacks.

For example, parents who typically show anxiety and concern when their kids come home with a poor quiz grade may convey the belief that intelligence is mostly fixed. Parents who focus instead on learning from the poor grade signal to their kids that intelligence can be built through learning and improvement.

Parents who tended to view failure as a negative, harmful event had children who were more likely to believe that intelligence is fixed. And the more negative parents’ attitudes were, the more likely their children were to see them as being concerned with performance as opposed to learning.

Investigators also discovered that parents’ beliefs about failure seemed to translate into their reactions to failure.

Most importantly, additional data indicated that children were very much attuned to their parents’ feelings about failure.

“It is important for parents, educators, and coaches to know that the growth mindset that sits in their heads may not get through to children unless they use learning-focused practices, like discussing what their children could learn from a failure and how they might improve in the future,” says Haimovitz.

Source: PsychCentral