The Best Thing Parents Can Do For Kids Is Make Them UNCOMFORTABLE

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let your kids feel uncomfortable
Family, Self

Yes, seriously!

It's every loving parent's goal: Shower my children with love and protect them from harm. These days, protecting kids from harm also includes 'emotional harm.' We're more mindful than ever about the negative impact bullying and criticism have on a child's blossoming self-esteem. So, as parents, we work hard to raise children with bold confidence and self-esteems fully intact. 

But, have we gone too far in protecting our children from any feeling that causes them frustration, worry or anxiety? 

It's one thing to protect our kids from overt cruelty and abuse; it's another to shield our children from any situation that makes them feel ... uncomfortable.

Why? Because it's important for kids to realize that getting what you want doesn't always come easily. Of course, this reality flies in the face of our society's culture of "star-worship," and our belief that certain people are "just" gifted. (Hearing about someone "being discovered overnight," doesn’t help!)

We want our children to have every positive opportunity life offers. But there’s a critical piece missing in how we structure their schooling: School is there to teach young minds how to learn. But in our modern school environment, there is little or no emphasis on the art of becoming. Instead, we expect our kids to achieve success instantly. 

Too many kids — and their parents — look at success as a magical thing some people are either meant for or they're not. "If I'm really 'smart,' why don't I understand this as easily as my classmate, why don’t I do as well as she does? — I guess I’m NOT smart afterall." 

Right there a wound occurs in the child’s self-regard. Yet, the truth is — success doesn’t have that much to do with innate intelligence or talent. Time and again, children with fewer "natural gifts" surpass the effortlessly smart, talented kids later in life because the first group doesn't give up easily. In short: perseverance trumps innate talent

The genius Albert Einstein said it best: "It’s not that I’m so smart, it’s just that I stay with problems longer." 

Carol Dweck, PhD, calls this having either a "fixed mindset" or a "growth mindset." A person with a "fixed" mindset believes, I am who I am, and there’s no way I can be different. A person with a "growth" mindset believes, If I really want to (with effort), I can get better at this.

The difference between the "fixed" and the "growth" mindset is the level of tolerance you have for frustration, mistakes and surprises.

For most of us — It's really uncomfortable to think, I made a mistake. (We get red ink marks for those in school, don’t we? We get in trouble for those at work.)

I know it's not easy to watch them flounder, but you must let your children feel uncomfortable, Mom and Dad!

If they can learn to bear the temporary uncomfortable feeling of being "wrong," long enough to get curious about their missteps, your kids can actually develop a "growth mindset." The "growth mindset" welcomes ongoing discomfort and dissatisfaction with some excitement, pleasure, and satisfaction mixed in! If your child wants to learn to play the violin for example, the whole family is going to suffer, and suffer, and suffer, until he becomes skilled. At that point, everyone else can enjoy the improved playing. He, of course, with his growth mindset, keeps working to improve bit by bit, wanting to perform even better! 

Here's another example of what happens when children get comfortable with feeling uncomfortableIn a recent study, high-schoolers were offered one of three things to read before taking a science test. One group was given information about the achievements of famous scientists, like Albert Einstein and Marie Curie, similar to the textbook material they see every day. A second group was given a story about the personal lives and struggles of those same scientists. And a third group received info about those scientists' professional disappointments and frustrations. 

After the test, the first group reacted to a poor grade by saying things like, "I’ll never be a scientist anyway!"  But, the second and third groups were more likely to say things like, "I guess I could have studied more," or "I can do better next time." 

Dr. Dweck talks about this as the "power of yet": Your daughter isn’t good at math … yet. Your son can’t draw well … yet. You can’t figure out the computer … yet! But "[if you] improve by 1 percent a day, in just 70 days, you’re twice as good." That's the growth mindset advantage. 

Ultimately, we don’t do our kids any favors by giving them prizes just for showing up. We also don’t help our children by telling them how smart they are — (even if they are intelligent) — and we don't help them grow by letting them bail out of anything that pushes their comfort zone. What our kids need is for us to teach them the value of staying with something difficult.

It's like the story "The Little Engine that Could." What a great template for the "growth" mindset. The Little Engine has a mission — to pull that train full of toys over the hill, so all the children can have a happy holiday. He gets there with a great deal of uncomfortable effort, saying all the way, "I think I can. think I can. think I can." 

Nobody, not even he, knows for sure if he can make it, until he crests the hill, when his chugging turns into "I knew I could! I knew I could! I knew I could!"

After all that hard work, frustration, and dedication, how joyous your children will feel realizing they're capable of producing successful results all on their own!


Cheryl Gerson is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, and  Board Certified Diplomate, in private practice in New York City. Call her for a free telephone consultation.


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