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Parents: Giving feedback that encourages child growth and effort

“You’re a natural! Great job, honey. You’re one of the best writers in the class.” At its surface, this praise is encouraging. It’s enthusiastic and it's kind. Everyone likes feeling praise. There’s something special to being called a ‘natural.’ Wow, I’m talented!

In fact, our culture is obsessed with talent. We crow over it. “She’s always been a great runner. She’s a natural.” “He was born to play the violin! Just picked it up at age 6. One of the naturals.”

Yet, what happens when our young “natural” doesn’t perform the way we expected? Or the way we told her she would? What happens when that budding writer gets a C- on his first high school essay? Or the runner doesn’t win a race she was expected to win? When the violinist gets a B in high school music class?

Identity can be shaken. If we engrain our “natural abilities” to believe that we are our talents, and we don’t measure up in a given situation, inner turmoil can ensue. This can be disheartening. Having a fixed concept of one’s self: our talents, abilities, skillsets, strengths, and weaknesses can hinder our courage to keep trying when we fail.

This is the tenant of Dr. Carol Dweck’s acclaimed book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. In the book, Dr. Dweck overviews two mindsets: growth and fixed. Below is an adapted example from a scenario Dr. Deck gives in her book. Can you guess which mindset is below?

A 12-year-old student fails his first algebra quiz.