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How to Help Your Child Uncover Their Hidden Genius

Stop telling them they are talented.

Photo by insung yoon on Unsplash
Photo by insung yoon on Unsplash

I’m a first grade project-based learning teacher. I have this vivid memory, when I was in first grade, a British royal princess arrived at our school, and I got to present my artwork in front of her. Everyone, including the princess said how talented I was and how beautiful and creative my artwork was. What they didn’t know was that it was not my artwork.

I was always told how talented I was, but that day during our art class the teacher didn’t notice my work, instead she told Maria how talented she was. I saw that Maria’s work was better than mine but I didn’t know what to do. I couldn’t ask for help because then she would find out I was not that talented. So instead I picked up my teacher’s model sketched outline and filled it up with bright colors. “Did you make this?” My teacher asked. I nodded with a smile. “Wow, you are so talented.” I was back, I was talented, I was accepted.

Dr. Carol Dweck, one of the world’s leading researchers in the field of personality, social psychology and developmental psychology, wrote in her bestseller book, Mindset that words have powers. Every word and action sends a message. It tells children how to think about themselves. “It can be a fixed-mindset message that says: You have permanent traits and I’m judging them. Or it can be a growth-mindset message that says: You are a developing person and I am committed to your development.”

Children feel they’re always being watched, and they’re being judged.

It’s nobody’s fault. Parents want to do what’s best for their child. But with a fixed-mindset, they send the wrong message and the child believes that they cannot change, what they have is permanent, and they will have to continue proving themselves that they are talented. It’s a struggle, which makes children want to stop learning because they don’t want to risk getting exposed. They want to protect their title, their crown, their natural talent. So they stay where they are in the hopes that their friends, parents, and teachers will continue to notice their genius.

But parents with a growth-mindset open up a whole new world for their children, where they can enjoy learning new things, make mistakes, and get better. They know that the signs of talent is nothing more than an opportunity to get better. What matters is perseverance, dedication, and discipline to master your craft. Instead of using unnecessary praise, they focus on the process, the strategies, and the effort of their children. It sends a message that we can become smarter, we can become more talented if we challenge ourselves.

I love writing. I have loved writing since I was young. I recently came across a letter I sent to the editor of a national newspaper when I was 13. I wanted to know how to write and publish a book. The editor showed me how hard that process was, how much talent and luck I needed to get my book published. I realized I wasn’t that talented. So I gave up on that dream.

It took me a long time to realize that I could change. I have a chance, a chance to get better, a chance to improve and master my craft, a chance to get published. So now I value the growth mindset, and want my students to know that I don’t judge them, I’m committed to their development, and I believe they can become smarter, they can all have their superpowers, as long as they challenge themselves. I teach project-based learning to first graders at Whittle School & Studios, first global school, where we attach great importance to our advisory system and the role of the advisor. This year, I incorporated the growth-mindset strategies into my weekly advisory sessions. After I did my first formative assessment with my advisees, I discovered that some of my students had mixed mindsets, they believed they could get better but not at everything. It was quite fascinating to see how the students changed their mindsets over a period of time after they witnessed the results of their efforts. It was beautiful, it was magical, and the best of all, unlike my fake artwork, this was all their own hard work.

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