After I had encouraged a father client of mine to read Carol Dweck’s book, Mindset, he reported he’d changed his morning sendoff to his children. He was no longer telling them, “Have a good day.” Now he was saying, “Enjoy the struggles.” I thought this was a brilliant interpretation of Dweck’s research.
In a nutshell, her work has proven that what we say repeatedly to our children has a major impact on how they perceive themselves and how they ultimately behave. She states that a key to motivation and success is self-esteem, built not on praise, but on the successful accomplishment of something that took effort and energy. It is actual accomplishment (work) that builds our critical internal sense of competency.
For instance, Dweck encourages us not to praise our children for being smart or successful at those things they are innately good at doing. Nor should we offer praise for just showing up, like everyone on the team getting a trophy (My kids threw away all of those meaningless trophies before they were out of middle school. Neither of them were star players and they knew it.) Instead we should be reinforcing specific effort with comments like, “You worked really hard on that project. I know writing isn’t easy for you,” or “You were really hustling on the field today, paying close attention to when your team members needed you.”
So, I got to wondering, if by constantly telling our children to have a good day, and they don’t, (because of executive function challenges get in the way), are they internalizing that they are incompetent at having a good day? Are they giving up and not putting any effort, or energy, or engagement into the difficult learning tasks? When we set them up to expect the day to always be “good,” which might get interpreted as “fun” or “easy,” are we stopping them from building up the resiliency and persistence that life requires?
I don’t know about your life, but mine can have lots of struggles on a given day. Some days it takes a lot of positive self talk to keep going. That’s why I loved how that father framed the expectation of the day for his children. Instead of being disappointed in a day that isn’t “fun” or “easy,” be ready for the day’s struggles. Find satisfaction in facing the challenges. Problem solving is actually really good for our brain. So, when your child or spouse comes home, ask them, “What problem did you solve today? What did you struggle with today?”
Thanks to that very wise father, my texts, to my now grown children, are ending with “Enjoy the day’s challenges!” And may you enjoy yours.
Marydee Sklar is the president of Executive Functioning Success and the creator of the Seeing My Time Program®. She is an educator and author of three books on executive functions, as well as a trainer and speaker. Marydee has more than twenty-five years of experience working with students and adults with executive function challenges.