As a parent, I am always struggling to keep the “balances” (I make it plural because there are so many!) for myself and for my daughter. For me, this has gotten more complicated in a world where it has again become legitimate to judge people based on their gender, race, or orientation. Finding the elusive balance even plagues my third grader. We talk regularly about:

  • How do you proudly share your accomplishments without bragging or hurting someone’s feelings?
  • How do you gracefully make mistakes and take the criticism that can come with them?
  • How do you negotiate compromise – When do you stand your ground?; When is getting your own way the right thing to fight for?

Recently, I made a really dumb, spontaneous decision. I left my daughter and her dad and skied off a tracked but unmarked trail by myself. I ended up in a slightly dangerous situation of which my daughter was very aware. I took my only out – turning it into a “teachable moment” about decision making and growth mindset, one of those buzz terms popular in schools now.

I attended a webinar on growth mindset, assuming that it would be about teaching kids grit and perseverance (a common misunderstanding even among educators). What I did not fully understand is the underlying idea – the idea that smart is not something you are, it is something you can get; that one’s intellectual ability is not fixed. I now understand why this idea requires ongoing training; it is complicated to shift one’s thinking and word choice to consistently flip a mistake or a roadblock into a problem solving challenge and a reminder of working towards a goal.

In reflecting on my own recent poor choices, I have been quick to chastise myself for not knowing better and to envision all of the horrible potential consequences to my actions. If I put it into the framework of growth mindset, I can then see that this was part of my own personal learning and that I worked through a problem, readjusted by goals, and learned a valuable lesson (it is a mistake I will never make again!). 

This experience reminded me of another tricky parental balance – the balance between being an authority figure and a human. I think it is often particularly hard to help our older kids find their balance, because it is not that far from what we adults deal with in our own lives. (Here Carol Dweck, educational researcher responsible for Growth Mindset, applies it to businesses). The silver lining of my unfortunate decision – the reminder that we all have more to learn and, if we can move beyond how we messed up, that ongoing learning offers us opportunity and adventure.

Book recommendations:

Picture books on building character and decision making abilities

Activities and discussion around the Berenstain Bears Choices and Decision Making on PBS

For older children – how Choose Your Own Adventure books* help with decision making

*CLiF thanks ChooseCo for donating books to use in our programs.

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