Back-to-school time brings so many exciting things: meeting new friends and seeing old ones (as “old” as they can be in elementary school!); new books and school supplies; new places and activities and a change of pace from summer at home.
For some children, though, school can also bring anxiety about failure. What if I don’t do well? Will Mom and Dad be upset with me?
Early childhood is a great time to instill a positive mindset, so your kiddos are well-equipped to handle whatever school… and life… throws at them.
Here are three things you can do right from toddlerhood to help set your little ones on a positive path.
1. Show them, through your actions and your words, why you respect and value them as much as you love them. This might seem obvious at first, but it isn’t always. Sometimes we fall into talking to our little ones in positive but generic ways (“good boy!” “what a smart girl!”); this shows our kids we are pleased with them but not that we are noticing what, specifically, they are doing well. Being more specific (“it is so kind of you to share with me!” “you kept at that puzzle until you figured it out!”) helps your child both better-understand what’s desirable about their behaviour, and feel “seen” by you.
2. Celebrate the effort more than the result. Childhood is a time of testing… everything. We try and succeed and fail, learning each time. But the key to the learning isn’t the success – it’s the attempt. As Wayne Gretzky famously said, “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take” – and the same goes for learning. So by all means praise your child for achieving goals and successes; but make sure you’re praising failed attempts, too. You want them to feel safe taking every shot, and never feel they should hold back an attempt for fear of failure.
3. Build a long-range mindset. Rather than acknowledging a failure as a failure, position it as a step on the path toward success. Rather than “you lost” or “you didn’t win,” say “[sibling/playmate] won this time;” rather than “you weren’t able to climb the tree,” try something like “you’re not able to climb the tree yet, but you get closer every time.” Encourage them to see failure as a part of eventual success, and it won’t have such a discouraging sting.