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Full disclosure: I don’t have kids of my own. I do get to play uncle for five nephew and nieces ranging from 2 to 13. I also work with a lot of kids as well as adults when it comes to dealing with life problems.
In working with people I’ve come to discover that the foundation to most adults problems comes from how they were raised as children, and a lot of kids problems is in fighting what they’re being taught. Now I’m not talking about general education, what I’m talking about is a mindset. The difference between being a doer and being a thinker.Now both mindsets are important to have to be able to navigate life’s chaos, but as adults, we tend to only focus on doing over thinking. It’s a foundation that’s locked in at a very early age. It starts innocently enough with a game like Simon Says. But soon Simon Says becomes what a parent says, and then what a teacher says. Then it’s what your consoles and professors say all the way until you’ve reached true adulthood and are now listening to what your bosses say. With this mindset, if you work hard enough and remember all the things that have been told to you then one day you’ll be ready to start telling others what to do and how to do.I call this the fisherman philosophy. You might have heard the saying, “Give a man a fish and he eats for a day, teach a man to fish and he’ll eat for a lifetime.” With the doer mindset, we’re about teaching each other a specific skill, usually one that we’re naturally talented in and then we’re told to be the best at what you do.
The problem with this mindset though is when a person reaches a moment where they realize they hate fish. What does one do if they hate what they do, but don’t know how to do anything else? In life, this translate to a midlife crisis, creating and maintaining unhealthy relationships, working a job you hate, and overall living an unsatisfying life.This idea becomes a bigger problem when you realize that our world has evolved and we’re no longer in much need for doers. In the past teaching one to do was important in keeping society functional. We all had a role to play and playing that role was fundamental to ensuring the comfort we’ve all become accustomed to. So, farmers teaching their kids to farm while doctors motivate their kids to become doctors made sense back then.
We now live in an age where anything you want to know can be learned by simply asking Siri. We now build robots that can build robots that do the job of a half dozen people in a fraction of the time. We create software to crunch the numbers for us, and coding that corrects our grammar and spelling, and the idea of talking to another human being when calling customer service is a privilege rather than the norm. We have cities like Detroit, Michigan the once automotive mecha of our country going bankrupt because there’s no longer a need for people to build cars. We’ve got drones delivering our packages and soon even the trucks will be delivering their own supplies without the need of a human behind the wheel.And then there’s the whole Artificial Intelligence Revolution quickly growing. As we get to a place where machines will be able to think faster than us the reality of living in a world where your boss will be a robot becomes more and more likely.
So how does developing a thinking mindset help us in this world of technology and innovation?
Well first off thinkers are more flexible in what and how they do. Take current great thinkers like Richard Branson, Elon Musk, or the late Steve Jobs. Individuals who started off doing one thing, but when things weren’t working out were able to adjust evolve what they were doing to find the success they were looking for. Individuals that weren’t sitting around waiting for someone to tell them what to do, but are constantly thinking about what to next for themselves.Thinkers are also better communicators and problem solvers. Thinkers take the time to figure out what the problem actually is rather than just dealing with the surface issue at play. It’s the difference between constantly patching up a broken machine to figuring out what parts need to be replaced or how to get a brand new machine. They also understand that people are different and thus need to be treated differently to get them working at their best.In short, doers may one day make for good managers with the proper training, but thinkers are natural leaders. They are creators and innovators. Thinkers are the individuals that shape our world.The thing is the thinking mindset needs to be set in at a young age, once a person locks in the doing mindset it becomes much more difficult to break that foundation down and build something new. The good news is it doesn’t take much to develop the thinking mindset in the young ones. That’s because thinking is a very natural thing for us to do. The trick is in supporting the mindset when the opportunities present itself rather than squashing it with a doer mindset.
Here are five different ways to help develop your young thinkers.Don’t praise talent, praise the processThis little action is just one of a few different ways to develop a “growth” mindset. A growth mindset is a key component of being a thinker since a growth mindset tells us that challenging ourselves is a good thing and we should always be seeking to overcome difficult tasks rather than avoiding them.How this works is simple, rather than focusing on praising a child on an action, we instead praise them for their thought process. A child gains very little when they’re told they did a good job with something they’re naturally good at. Praise feels good, and when someone is praised for something that was easy for them they’ll continue to focus on doing that easy thing. They’ll tend to avoid things that they’re not good at and eventually get frustrated with themselves when they’re forced to do something they’re not good at.When we focus on praising the process then it’s not just about the end result it’s about how they overcame their obstacles. So instead of congratulating a child on getting good grades, congratulate them for listening to their teachers and studying hard. Instead of praising a kid for getting on the basketball team acknowledge that it was due to their hard work and practice. If a child is naturally gifted at something challenge them to accomplish something outside of their natural talent.Reinforce the idea that it’s great to be good at something but it’s important to achieve things you’re not so good.Don’t fix your kids problems, help them come to their own solutionsThis is probably one of the tougher ones for parents since we instinctively want to make everything better for our kids, especially if it’s something as simple as fixing a broken toy. The thing is when a kid is dealing with a problem they’re aware of, whether it’s something simple like a broken toy or something a bit more difficult like being bullied at school, you coming in to save the day doesn’t do much for the child other than making the problem go away.Instead, this is the perfect opportunity for the child to learn why the problem exists and start thinking about the options they have.
Understanding options and outcomes is an important part of problem-solving and helping your child to discover these options is pivotal in developing that thinker mindset.If it’s a broken toy then how did the toy break? We’re they playing with it too rough or is the toy just old and finally worn apart? Can the toy be fixed or does it need to be replaced? Maybe it’s just as simple as attaching a part back together, but helping them figure that out will means if it ever happens again they now have the tool to fix their own problem rather than just immediately asking for help.Not all problems have an easy solution, in fact, some may not have one at all. Again this is something important for a child to learn. If they’re dealing with a bully, no matter how many ways your child approaches the situation it may not fix the problem. Understanding what they can control and what they can’t is a huge tool that most adults still have a problem coming to terms with.
Obviously, it’s important to make sure your child is safe, but that doesn’t mean a conversation can’t be had about the problem even after it’s been resolved.Let them know it’s okay to make mistakesThis isn’t to say don’t hold them accountable for their choices, but no matter how old you get you’re still going to make a few mistakes here and there. If you’ve ever gotten a new job, even if it’s in the same industry your new company may just have different procedures you’re not used to at first. We all make mistakes, but very often, especially when we’re younger were made to believe that mistakes are the end of the world.The reality is that mistakes are just a part of life, and the truth is we’re always going to learn more from our mistakes than we are from our successes. So it’s important to talk to kids about the mistakes they’re making and why one mistake might be okay because they didn’t know better, but that a second time it’s less okay because they should have learned from their first mistake.
By discussing the mistakes being made one can begin to compile these lessons for future choices, which will help them avoid making the same mistake in a different situation. Learning that certain mistakes are okay also helps one make bolder choices.A person who fears mistakes will avoid specific situations even though that situation may help them succeed in what they want. The fear of messing up keeps us from trying and very often in adults, this means just doing what you know how to do rather than expanding your own skillsets.It’s important for a child to understand what they did wrong, but the act of doing wasn’t wrong, there’s just simply better ways to do if you stop and think about it first.Punish their choices, not their actionsNow some mistakes do need to be punished, but why someone is being punished is much more important than what they’re being punished for. If a child breaks a vase there’s a difference between them breaking the vase because they were unaware of their surroundings or they chose to break it because they were upset. Regardless of the situation if the child is only being punished for breaking the vase they learn nothing other than don’t break things unless you want to upset your parents. Which means if they’re looking to upset you they’ll make that choice again.
When we focus on the choice behind the action we give the child something to think about as they deal with their punishment. If a child knows that they’re in trouble for not paying attention they’ll work on being more aware of their surroundings. If the child is being punished though because of how they dealt with their anger they’ll begin to understand that their actions have consequences and certain actions will not get them what they want.Either way, it’s important to establish that you’re not upset at what they did, but why they did it. When we focus on the what, once again all we’re focusing on is the doing part, which just tells us what we can and can’t do. When we focus on the why we’re focusing on the thinking part. Why did I do that? Why am I in trouble for doing that? Was doing what I did worth the punishment?
A side point to this point, try your best to let your kid explain their choices to you rather than telling them what they did was wrong and why. The younger they are the harder this will be (I can’t even count the number of times I’ve said “Use your words” to my four-year-old niece) but it’s important to get them to communicate their feelings rather than telling them what they’re feeling.If it’s not completely obvious yet, the thing that helps develop the thinking mindset is communication.Watch what your kids are watching and talk about itThis one is a personal favorite of mine because it also pushes for more together time with the family.
I know that sometimes a parent just needs to distract their kids for a while so that they can get other things done, but it’s important to know what your kids are watching and why they enjoy what they’re watching. Understanding which characters they like and why will help you understand who they’re developing into, but it’s also a perfect opportunity to expand their understanding of people, choices, and consequences.Kid shows, in general, are chalk full of lessons and morals being able to break down an episode and talk about what happened and why it happened will help kids understand conflicts and obstacles they may face in the future. Do they agree with a choice that was made? Why or Why not? What’s the reason they dislike one character over another? What did the character have to learn to solve their problems?Story is one of the greatest tools we have in developing the thinking mindset, but it takes more than just watching a show to develop this mindset. A little bit of critical thinking goes a long way in helping us understand our own lives through the lives of our favorite characters.
So every now and again take the time to watch an episode of your kid’s favorite shows and ask them questions about the show? Being a parent is hard, but the goal of a parent is always the same. To ensure that their kids will grow up and find success and happiness in life. In this ever-changing world there’s very little we can do to guarantee that no matter what we teach them, but if we give them the right tools early on in their lives they’ll have a better chance on figuring it out on their own. All it takes is a bit of thinking.
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