Parenting children to enable a better frame of mind
It is the meaning we give our experiences that will impact how we feel and experience things.
The earth’s environment is at risk of impending ruination. Our children will live in a time that will have new challenges, undiscovered careers and a way of life that is currently unprecedented. Therefore, to create a sustainable future, we need to change aspects of their education. More than ‘what’, we have to shift ‘why’ we are teaching our children.
To innovate things like robotic bees and vegan bottles as an alternative to plastic, we need children to be curious and look to solve real problems, not memorise and regurgitate. As parents, we have to be willing to move away from the pressure to secure academic results as this kills a curious mindset.
How can children be curious or overcome hardships if they fear failure?
Eric Barker, in his book, ‘Barking Up the Wrong Tree: The Surprising Science Behind Why Everything You Know About Success Is (Mostly) Wrong’– demonstrates that students who graduate with top grades in high school rarely rise to their full potential or contribute to any path-breaking innovation. They operate in a system that rewards them for abiding by the rules. So, why would they do anything but follow what they are told? The current education system gives children very little external motivation to think outside the box. If they always need to be right and need to know all the correct answers, they will have already closed off their minds to any other possible answers. Their notion of success aligns with securing good grades, and this doesn’t provoke them to seek more knowledge.
Remember what neuroscience says- ‘your thoughts create your beliefs and your beliefs create your reality’. In a nutshell, our inner world creates our external reality. Success, failure, happiness and sadness; all of them begin in the mind. Studies show that you can literally ‘choose happiness’ and that this choice often precedes success. They found that happy people earn more money, display superior performance, and perform more helpful acts. The evidence from this and other studies suggest not only that happiness correlates with success but also that happiness often precedes it.
We can make an active conscious effort to modify how we see a situation by how we choose our thoughts and emotions around a situation. Maximum neural connectivity occurs when our children are young. There is a famous saying in the world of neuroscience ‘Neurons that fire together wire together’, so we must help our children to build a happy and self-regulating brain from the moment they are born. This can be done by changing the way we educate them.
Why we teach children should answer 3 things.
1. Does it make them happy?
There is no point in reaching the pinnacle of success and accumulating lots of material wealth if happiness is not in the mix. We have seen that the pursuit of wealth without happiness leads to horrendous outcomes, which include suicide. So, happiness must form an essential part of why we educate children.
2. Does it keep them healthy?
The education we provide must work towards creating a healthier environment and help children be healthier. When we explore health, we should not only be exploring physical health but mental health and health at a cellular level (nutrition).
3. Does it help them find purpose?
We are born to contribute to the world and make it better than it was when we were born into it. So, an education that does not help children find a purpose will only serve to confuse them. A purpose is essential for us to find our way.
These three answers are interwoven. When they are in play, abundance in all other forms, including wealth, seems to flow. They create a new idea of success that promotes learning for the sake of knowledge, not as a measure of their success. As Albert Einstein said: “The more I learn, the more I realize how much I don’t know.” Knowledge itself is not necessarily a measure of success, but a thirst for it can help us find success.
The brain is plastic, which means that even as an adult we can create new neural networks, but the optimum time for this is from birth to about the age of 7. It’s important for parents and children to recognize the small and big challenges of life. We need to show our children that the way we develop through life is strongly influenced by the choices we make. That by recognizing our inner strengths and nurturing each other, we can tap into our potential as human beings. For that, children need to have a strong sense of self-awareness and the motivation to do more.
It is the assumptions and beliefs in our mind that drive our emotions, decisions, and actions. It is the deciding factor in whether we feel powerful or powerless. We want to feel powerful as individuals; we want to be in control. So, when society and we, as parents, tell our children that scores and grades are the be-all and end-all of education, then children will only want to succeed in tests and play safe to feel powerful and prove themselves as intelligent.
Knowing that grades and scores are not the secret sauce to success, but that self-image and the beliefs you have about yourself are, will help children find a more meaningful version of success. The core mindset belief needs to be that ‘I can develop, learn and grow based on the effort I invest in developing, learning and growing’. What makes a curious mindset so desirable is that it creates an inner passion for learning. When learning is not done from a yearning for approval, it does not create an aversion to failure. When we fail, we actually learn one more way it did not work so the outcome is learning.
Dr. Alfred Nobel, the founder of the Nobel Peace Prize, only did so after a revelation. When his brother, Ludwig, died in 1888, a French newspaper mistakenly published Alfred’s obituary. After reading his own obituary, Nobel was disgusted when he realized his own public image. Condemning him for inventing dynamite, the newspaper gave him the infamous nickname ‘Le marchand de la mort est mort’ (“The merchant of death is dead”) and went on to say “Dr. Alfred Nobel, who became rich by finding ways to kill more people faster than ever before, died yesterday.” To Nobel, this obituary was a warning. He was deeply disturbed and concerned with the idea that this was how he would be remembered. This faux pas inspired him to make changes in his life and his will. He wanted to improve his public image and be remembered for a good cause. In his will, he specified that his fortune was to be used to create a series for prizes for those who confer the ‘greatest benefit on mankind’ in physics, chemistry, physiology or medicine, literature, and peace.
Alfred Nobel changed his life, his self-image and public image by making the most of a bad situation. By all means, Nobel was a chemist and an inventor, but still, he yearned to be more because he was unhappy with how things turned out.
We can’t always be in control of the challenges that come our way, but we can be in control of the meaning we give these challenges. Remember, it is the meaning we give our experiences that will impact how we feel and experience things. We can teach this to our children to help them shift how they react and respond. Parenting plays a big role in whether our children will fall into a pessimistic or optimistic mindset category. From an early age, children absorb the emotional energy at home. If you, as a parent, model optimism, this will be your child’s go-to response as well.
Teach your child that pessimism and optimism are thinking habits and you can change the way you think and the story you tell yourself. If your child comes home with a challenge, ask your child to think of ways in which the challenge could be beneficial. Lost in football? What did you learn? Raj scored 2 goals and I only scored 1? Is there anyone who scored no goals at all? Find the positives in any situation.
In the same way, the mindset your children develop will affect their potential throughout life. Their belief about their abilities and their potential will fuel their behaviour, decisions and actions throughout life and eventually determine whether they reach their potential. Their beliefs about themselves will have a profound impact on nearly every aspect of their life.
If we work together to change why and what we teach our children, we can help create a support system that will help them overcome the challenges of the future. Let’s work together to help our children find a better frame of mind— one which will empower them to be self-motivated, self-driven and productive. These values will support them when they endeavour to change the world. We don’t need to discourage failure to encourage success. In fact, if we help them learn from life — its highs and lows, the challenges and the experiences — we can help them find more than simple success, we can help them find happiness, health and purpose.