Simple Ideas with Profound Impact
Avoid the snow plow – help your child succeed in life!
Last week we posted an interview with Christine de Marcellus Vollmer about teaching universal values to young children. It was a particularly timely post because it came on the heels of a breaking news story about wealthy parents engaging in all kinds of illegal and immoral activities to pave the way for their children’s acceptance into elite colleges and universities here in the United States.
Today, I want to talk about another aspect of the story that is also quite topical, the phenomenon known as lawnmower or snowplow parenting. I prefer the image of the snowplow moving massive amounts of snow to clear a path so I’ll go with that one. These are parents who believe they must pave the way for their child’s success in life by removing all obstacles to failure. The parents involved in the college admissions scandal are snowplow parents par excellence!
Before leaving the workforce to devote herself to raising her children, Juliana Gaither (my daughter and a big part of BrainFit Kids) was the Associate Director for Study Abroad at one of America’s elite universities. In her role she sometimes dealt with these kinds of parents. In preparing to write this post I asked Juliana to tell me about her experience.
“We often had parents call and ask what their son or daughter needed to do to be accepted into a program instead of the student calling us or coming in to speak with us themselves. We even had the occasional parent wanting to meet with us in place of their child to find out more about the programs and the procedures for acceptance because their children were ‘too busy’ to do it themselves. ”
Remember, these students are 18 to 21-year-old young men and women! Unfortunately, many folks working at all levels of education have run into these types of parents. The problem is that in the long run, this kind of parenting has the opposite effect. Rather than helping children succeed, it sets them up for failure.
It is important for me to deal with this because some people believe that the things we teach at BrainFit Kids will lead parents to become “helicopter” parents or “snowplow” parents. If parents understand what we teach and apply it correctly nothing could be further from the truth.
Here’s a direct quote about the goal of BrainFit Kids from Day 1 of our free email course, “Make the First Three Years Count.”
“Who are BrainFit Kids? BrainFit Kids are children who are smart, capable, and compassionate. They are children who function at a high level physically, intellectually, socially, and emotionally. They are children who are curious and have a love of learning. They are children with self-confidence who enthusiastically tackle new challenges. BrainFit Kids are kids who have many options from which to choose. By the way, other than the fact that they are children who are raised with the brain in mind, they’re just like other kids. In other words, every well-child has the potential to be a BrainFit Kid. We’d like nothing better than to see a zillion of them!”
It is not possible for us to achieve that goal if our parents become either helicopter or snowplow parents.
So, how can you help your child to succeed in life?
First, ensure that that wonderful gift of the human brain is well developed and functioning optimally. Remember, all ability is the direct result of the development and organization of the brain. There’s plenty of information about that in our free email course and on our blog.
Second, take a cue from Dr. Carol Dweck, a world-renowned Stanford University psychologist, about how to interact with your child as they confront the many challenges of life.
Dr. Carol Dweck, has spent decades researching the factors that lead to achievement and success. Her research eventually led her to pinpoint two beliefs that people have about themselves that affect how they approach challenges. She labeled those beliefs the “fixed mindset”, the belief that intelligence and ability are predetermined and unchangeable, and the “growth mindset”, the belief that intelligence and ability can be developed and improved through effort and determination.
Children begin to develop a mindset about themselves by around 3 or 4 years of age. Parents and teachers play a significant role in which mindset children develop because they are constantly giving feedback to them. Dr. Dweck discovered that the nature of that feedback is critical. Simply put, children who are praised for being smart tend to be children who shun challenges and opt for the easy way out, whereas children who are praised for their effort tend to be children who enthusiastically embrace challenges.
Sounds counterintuitive, right? But think about it. If Billy believes that his success is based on his intelligence, he is unlikely to do anything that might alter that perception of him. Billy doesn’t want to fail because that will prove that he’s not smart! On the other hand, if Susie believes that her success is based on her effort and perseverance, she is more likely to give challenges a shot. Susie sees failure as a part of the process of learning. Check out this video of children attempting to do puzzles for a clear demonstration of this concept.
Of course, as with many things in parenting, there are nuances in how one gives praise even when it is “effort” focused. In an article in “The Atlantic”, Dr. Dweck explains,
“If parents react to their child’s failures as though there is something negative, if they rush in, are anxious, reassure the child, ‘Oh not everyone can be good at math, don’t worry, you’re good at other things,’ the child gets it that no, this is important, and it’s fixed.”
“But if the parent reacts to a child’s failure as though it’s something that enhances learning, asking, “Okay, what is this teaching us? Where should we go next? Should we talk to the teacher about how we can learn this better?” that child comes to understand that abilities can be developed.”
“So, with praise, focus on “process praise” – focus on the learning process and show how hard work, good strategies, and good use of resources lead to better learning.”
Dr. Dweck’s research has implications for all of us in our role as parents and in our own lives as we face the challenges of life at work, in our communities, and at home.
So now you have two pieces of the puzzle. There’s one more left.
Third, get out of the way and trust your child!
Let’s face it, nobody learns to walk without falling down and getting a few scrapes and bruises. The road to true success is a bumpy one. We take a few steps, lose our balance, and down we go. But then we dust ourselves off, regain our bearings, and try again. Try, fail, adjust, try again. With effort and perseverance, we eventually succeed. Failure is a part of life. It’s impossible for any child to develop successfully without it.
One final thought. We teach three basic laws of brain development. The third law says that “where there is a need, there is a facility”. Basically, it means that in order for any ability to develop there must first be a need for that ability. It’s an incredibly important law to understand. If you haven’t done so already, I encourage you to read our post on this law here. I promise you, if you understand it well you will never turn into a helicopter or snowplow parent.