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Humor@Home: Don't Quit, Grow Your Brain

Do you ever wonder if your kids hear anything you say? Do you think to yourself, “Why am I even talking? No one listens. I may as well just let them fight, interrupt, and be destructive.” If there is ever a contest for getting your kids to turn out right, I’ve always thought I would pretty much come in dead last. Which is why this whole incident baffled me.

I have been telling my kids, “Practice makes perfect,” “Anything worth having is worth fighting for,” “Sí, se puede,” and every other cliché that might stick in their brains to get across the message that yes, math and spelling and playing the piano are hard, but if you keep trying, you will get better, and it will be worth the effort. I also tell them that intelligence is not fixed; they can “grow” their brains. 

When I told Ashley she could grow her brain, she stopped mid-sob over a difficult piano piece to say, “Mom, are you saying my brain is going to get bigger? How can that be? What’s it going to do, come out my ears?” To which I naturally launched into a watered-down explanation of the neuro-science of synapses and growth mindset theory. She looked at me crosswise and said the family joke: “Whatcha talkin’ about, Willis?” 

OK, maybe that was a bit complicated for a six year old. I tried again: “Look, your brain isn’t going to get larger, but the cells inside your brain will grow and make connections. You don’t get smarter by practicing what you already know; you can only get smarter by learning something you don’t know yet. Practice makes perfect.” She’d heard that before, so she accepted it without seeming to process it, and I had to let it go. For the moment.

I kept lecturing my children though. Every time they whined about anything being too hard, I told them something about resilience or growing their brain or being gritty. I did this until they would roll their eyes at me. I kept doing it even then. What else could I do? Stop telling them to practice math and spelling and piano? Tell them that they’re just not good at those things, so they might as well just give up? There are too many years ahead of them to suffer through thinking “I’m just not a math person.” 

And then, it happened. Samantha was practicing a typing lesson. Typing is a skill she’s not really fond of practicing. She would rather eat her vegetables than type. And she’s got about as much natural typing ability as a fish. She said to me at the end of the lesson, “Let me see you do it, Mom.” So I did. Naturally, I flew through the most advanced lesson at 67 words per minute. But then, there’s nothing “natural” about it. It’s just that I’ve been typing since I was twelve, and I type every day. That adds up to hours and hours of practice. Of course I can type faster than she can. “Mom, you made two mistakes,” she was quick to point out. I decided to play her role: “Oh! I’ll never get this! I can’t type! I’ll never learn! I quit!” I went on and on. I howled. I cried. I threw myself on the floor. 

Hearing the commotion, Ashley came in the room. Very calmly, she put her hand on my shoulder and said, “Mom, You can do it. You just have to have a growth mindset.”

Aha! So they have been listening. They just didn’t want to admit it.

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Tags: Enrichment

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