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Debate Club: Should You Teach Your Kids to Share?


Teaching kids to share is good for them and good for society

by Kelly Meldrum

On a gorgeous fall day, I drove down the streets of our upper middle class, suburban neighborhood, waving at strangers raking leaves and kids playing in the unseasonably warm weather. As I passed garage after garage, open and neatly organized, I noticed something that disgusted me about the culture in which we live.

I saw the exact same items in nearly every garage: expensive lawn mowers, high-end snow blowers, ladders of every size, hardware of all kinds, and every lawn gadget thing-a-ma-bob imaginable. The two to three vehicles parked in every driveway didn’t escape my attention either.

The homes in our neighborhood are around 50 feet from one another. In this moment of clarity, it seemed like such a waste that every garage contained multiple, seldom used items hanging literally feet away from the neighbor’s identical items.

I thought about why we live this way. I believe that our need for autonomy, financial or otherwise, is rooted in the fact that, as a society, we’ve lost our sense of community and connection to one another. We don’t have relationships with our neighbors. We don’t share because we’re looking out for ourselves.

My experience cemented my conviction and commitment to sharing the things we own and teaching my children to do the same.

Spend less, give more

My desire for community and connection with others is deeply rooted in my faith as a Christ-follower, but it doesn’t require religious tradition to see the benefits of sharing. My cousin, an atheist, is kind and deeply empathetic to those in need. She sees the value of connection and community through sharing as much as I do. She loves others through her actions more often than many “Christians” I know.

The more we share what we have, the less we spend on ourselves, which allows us to give more to others, including family, friends, charities, and causes that are important to us. We remind our kids of this often, especially, when they both want the exact same thing. We ask them if they can share it, or if they really think they each need one.

We don’t demand sharing of every single thing we own (for instance, each child has their own iPad), but we do highly encourage it and talk through the possible outcomes of sharing or not.

Connection

When we share, we connect with others on a deeper level. There is no way to share without communicating and cooperating with someone else. The act alone is good for children’s social and emotional development. We can cultivate empathy as we talk through how it feels to be without something that we need or want. Likewise, children practice patience as they learn to wait for something that they want, including time or attention.

My children are not saints, and I am an average parent who “loses it” daily, but I believe our focus on sharing from infancy has positively affected our children and resulted in less fighting and sibling rivalry. Our two youngest share as if they are twins (they’re not).

Speaking of twins, they’re an excellent example of children who’ve learned to share from a young age. Twins typically share everything from toys to time to parents and rooms, yet they often have an unbreakable bond, likely hardened by years of taking turns and cooperation.

Community

One only need turn on the news to see the obvious break down of community in our society. In poorer nations all over the world today, life is all about community. People have to share to survive.

It used to be that way in First World nations as well, but time, money, stress, and, distance have separated us from one another literally and figuratively. Our elders cry, “I remember when neighbors really cared about each other,” and we all nod our heads in agreement.

Most of us concur that something is broken in our communities, but no one knows how to fix it. I believe that sharing can bring back some of that unity we’re lacking. We’ve started by letting our family, friends, neighbors, and church know that we have things they can borrow. Not surprisingly, most are taken aback that we would trust them with our possessions.

Regardless of how they feel, those who need something will take us up on the offer. In turn, they offer time to help with a chore or lend out something of theirs that we might need. It’s not tit-for-tat; it’s the beginning of community and real connection between acquaintances.

The Earth

It’s a no-brainer that the less we buy and use, the better it is for the environment. What if only every other house, or every third house on our block had a heavy-duty snow-blower? What if more people car-pooled to work or part-time workers shared a vehicle?

Even smaller gestures could have an impact. We could tell our neighbors that we have a 24-foot ladder they can borrow anytime so they don’t feel the need to buy one when they need to put up and take down Christmas lights once a year.

Boundaries and pitfalls

It probably seems easy for me to say “everybody share” when it’s clear that I am well-off. I wasn’t always. I grew up in a working poor family. We had everything we needed, but debt and living paycheck-to-paycheck was the norm. My parents worked hard, but still had to borrow money for Christmas, medical care, and unforeseen circumstances. I know the other side, and I can’t help but think of how we would have benefited if someone in our lives had said, “Hey, I have a few things you can borrow so you don’t have to buy them.”

My parents were protective of all of their things because they worked so hard for them. But even my parents, who didn’t have a lot, had items they could have shared with the neighbors. My dad worked in construction, so he had dozens of tools not in use. My mom made gorgeous handmade Halloween costumes every year for us (which she did lend out when we were older).

I understand the inherent desire to protect things that are special, so we do allow our kids a few special items that they don’t have to share. When sharing anything, it’s important to talk about what will happen or who is responsible for the item if does break. Will the owner pay for it if the borrower didn’t use it out of turn? Will they split the expense? It’s a good conversation to have upfront, and it fosters that connection we all need.

Modeling behavior

In our home, we model the behavior we want to see in our children. We give out our garage code to friends and family if they want to stop by to use the bathroom or get something to eat when we aren’t home.

When guests come over, we make it clear they’re welcome to anything in the common areas, from food and drinks to toys, movies, books, and magazines. We lend out our folding tables, hardware, carpet cleaner, leaf blower, ladders, chairs, lawn games, and virtually anything that we don’t often use that can be easily transported.

Our kids get one day with their new toys. Yep, just one day that they don’t have to share, and then it becomes family property and anyone can play with it.

I know that it’s not for everyone, but sharing is a way of life for us. Surprisingly, it works. And it’s made us a more joyful, more giving, and more loving family.

I didn’t make my kids share and they became generous people

by Kimberly Yavorski

Parents have become too involved in their kids’ decisions. As a society, we seem to have bought into the idea that we’re judged on the actions of our children and, as a result, impose demands of perfection on them. We try to force them to behave in ways that are unnatural and, despite claiming to hate the idea, expect them to “Do as I say, not as I do.” Sharing is just one example.

While I certainly think there’s value in sharing, I don’t believe that kids should be taught to share everything. After all, as adults, we get to choose which things we share and which we keep to ourselves. It seems hypocritical to me to insist that a child share everything, then have a “look but not touch” attitude about certain items (i.e. keep all the salted caramel ice cream to myself).  Instead, I think we should start teaching them to decide if and when to share their things from a young age.

I believe in natural consequences. There should be a logical cause and effect. I think this is how people learn best. (I have to confess that I may have, on occasion, manipulated circumstances to make a point.) There’s inherent value in sharing; being selfish and greedy is unlikely to improve relationships with others and can be very isolating.

But I think this is a lesson best learned by experience, not by being forced. I gave my children the option to share, or not. If that resulted in siblings or friends choosing to reflect their selfish ways, I then pointed out that everyone can choose whether to share or not, and that maybe sharing with others would make them more likely to share with you.

When my daughter was small, like many others, she had a special stuffed toy that was extremely important to her and went everywhere with us. On one occasion, when we had another child visiting, he wanted to play with this toy. My daughter refused, and as the situation escalated, his mother admonished my daughter, telling her to share.

I quickly stepped in, saying no, she didn’t have to share that toy as it was very special to her. I told my daughter that since she didn’t want to share this toy, I would put it someplace safe for her and followed through. The other mom was surprised at my reaction, but it was my house, my rules, and she accepted my solution to the issue.

I kept to this philosophy as my children grew. With four kids in the house, there were many times one child wanted a toy that another had. We discussed sharing, and I pointed out how some toys are much more fun to play with when shared. Sometimes sharing and working together on something like a jigsaw puzzle made the process go faster as well.

I insisted on manners and taught the older kids to use a “bait and switch” technique when their baby or toddler siblings had an item they didn’t want to share. I explained that it was not acceptable to grab toys away, but that they should find another toy with equal or greater appeal and trade. Anything they were unwilling to share was to be put away before friends came over to play.

I believe that not forcing my kids to share has enabled them to be more assertive. They have the confidence to say no and to stand up to being treated unfairly (and also defend others who are less able to do so than themselves). They also accept no as an answer. They understand that sometimes a “no” is “not now,” and other times it is firm and final. That being said, they’re all generous individuals who frequently do share – on their own terms.

I question what we’re teaching the child who wants an item by forcing another to share. Does this somehow enable them and teach them that they can have whatever they want simply by demanding it, that it is their right to have everything shared with them?

Allowing kids to sometimes not share teaches the one suffering the rejection that they will not always get what they want, that wanting a thing does not necessarily mean you get it. Asking to play with a toy is a request. If the other child is forced to give it up, it becomes akin to a demand. Forcing kids to share can also cause resentment. If they’re going to share, I want my children to share willingly.

Some parents enforce sharing rules by insisting that children take turns (even when it is not their child or even their child’s toy). Assuming that such sharing equates to fairness, and that for some reason we should falsely imply that life is fair, is this really the message conveyed? If you have something and are not done using (or playing with) it, and are forced to give it to someone, how is that okay?

Instead, if we ask a child to wait until the other is done with the item, we teach patience and waiting (a skill that will be used throughout life). If we choose to say no altogether, it may seem harsh, but is more a life lesson than dictated sharing.

I have another, more practical reason not to insist on sharing. Not everyone places the same value on things. There are items that are important to me that others consider insignificant. In addition, not everyone is taught to respect the property of others. While I’m careful to take great care with things that do not belong to me (and have taught my children to do the same), others have not always reciprocated. Sometimes sharing results in the item in question being damaged, lost, or even destroyed.

I’ve had the opportunity to observe many children, of varying ages and abilities, engage in play. Some of these cherish playthings and treat them lovingly. Others seem to have a crush-and-destroy attitude towards everything in their path. Sharing involves an implied trust and sometimes that trust needs to be earned. Though some people are quick to offer a replacement, others simply move on to another toy. And in some cases, the item can’t be replaced.

Many people I know share freely, without giving it a second thought. They’re quick to loan any item, without caution or condition. Some may see my perspective as selfish or consider it a character flaw, but I’m more discerning in what I share and with whom. Prized possessions deserve careful treatment and don’t have to be shared.

When my kids ask to borrow things and I hesitate, they’re quick to tell me it’s okay if I don’t want to share, that they understand. They can say no to my requests as well; they know I will offer them the same consideration.

It’s okay to have some things for yourself. As adults, we respect personal ownership. We don’t walk into someone’s house and use anything we see that we like. In fact, we usually even ask permission to use a bathroom (as if that would be denied). Why should our kids be taught that their possessions are less important than ours?

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Unstructured play is play without predetermined rules of the game. There are no organized teams, uniforms, coaches or trainers. It is spontaneous, often made-up on the spot, and changeable as the day goes on. It is the kind of play you see when puppies chase each other around a yard in endless circles or a group of kids play for hours in a fort they created out of old packing boxes.

Unstructured play is fun—no question about it—but research also tells us that it is critically important for the development of children's bodies and brains.

One of the best ways to encourage unstructured play in young children is by providing open-ended toys, or toys that can be used multiple ways. People Toy Company knows all about that. Since 1977, they've created toys and products designed to naturally encourage developmental milestones—but to kids, it all just feels like play.

Here are five reasons why unstructured play is crucial for your children—

1. It changes brain structure in important ways

In a recent interview on NPR's Morning Edition, Sergio Pellis, Ph.D., an expert on the neuroscience of play noted that play actually changes the structure of the developing brain in important ways, strengthening the connections of the neurons (nerve cells) in the prefrontal cortex, the area of the brain considered to be the executive control center responsible for solving problems, making plans and regulating emotions.

Because unstructured play involves trying out different strategies without particular goals or serious consequences, children and other animals get to practice different activities during play and see what happens. When Dr. Pellis compared rats who played as pups with rats that did not, he found that although the play-deprived rats could perform the same actions, the play-experienced rats were able to react to their circumstances in a more flexible, fluid and swift fashion.

Their brains seemed more "plastic" and better able to rewire as they encountered new experiences.

Hod Lipson, a computer scientist at Cornell sums it up by saying the gift of play is that it teaches us how to deal with the unexpected—a critically important skill in today's uncertain world.

2. Play activates the entire neocortex

We now know that gene expression (whether a gene is active or not) is affected by many different things in our lives, including our environment and the activities we participate in. Jaak Panksepp, Ph.D., a Professor at the University of Washington studied play in rats earning him the nickname of the "rat tickler."

He found that even a half hour of play affected the activity of many different genes and activated the outer part of the rats' brains known as the neocortex, the area of the brain used in higher functions such as thinking, language and spatial reasoning. We don't know for sure that this happens in humans, but some researchers believe that it probably does.

3. It teaches children to have positive interaction with others

It used to be thought that animal play was simply practice so that they could become more effective hunters. However, Dr. Panksepp's study of play in rats led him to the conclusion that play served an entirely different function: teaching young animals how to interact with others in positive ways. He believed that play helps build pro-social brains.

4. Children who play are often better students

The social skills acquired through play may help children become better students. Research has found that the best predictor of academic performance in the eighth grade was a child's social skills in the third grade. Dr. Pellis notes that "countries where they actually have more recess tend to have higher academic performance than countries where recess is less."

5. Unstructured play gets kids moving

We all worry that our kids are getting too little physical activity as they spend large chunks of their time glued to their electronic devices with only their thumbs getting any exercise. Unstructured play, whether running around in the yard, climbing trees or playing on commercial play structures in schools or public parks, means moving the whole body around.

Physical activity helps children maintain a healthy weight and combats the development of Type 2 diabetes—a condition all too common in American children—by increasing the body's sensitivity to the hormone insulin.

It is tempting in today's busy world for parents and kids to fill every minute of their day with structured activities—ranging from Spanish classes before school to soccer and basketball practice after and a full range of special classes and camps on the weekends and summer vacation. We don't remember to carve out time for unstructured play, time for kids to get together with absolutely nothing planned and no particular goals in mind except having fun.

The growing body of research on the benefits of unstructured play suggests that perhaps we should rethink our priorities.

Not sure where to get started? Here are four People Toy Company products that encourage hours of unstructured play.

1. People Blocks Zoo Animals

These colorful, magnetic building blocks are perfect for encouraging unstructured play in children one year and beyond. The small pieces fit easily in the hands of smaller children, and older children will love creating their own shapes and designs with the magnetic pieces.

People Blocks Zoo Animals 17 Piece Set, People Toy Company, $34.99

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This article was sponsored by People Toy Company. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

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Plenty of modern motherhood paraphernalia was made to be seen—think breastfeeding pillows that seamlessly blend into living room decor or diaper bags that look like stylish purses. The breast pump though, usually isn't on that list.

It's traditionally been used in the privacy of our homes and hotel rooms in the best case scenarios, and in storage closets and restrooms in the worst circumstances. For a product that is very often used by mothers because they need to be in public spaces (like work and school), the breast pump lives a very private life.

Thankfully, some high profile moms are changing that by posting their pump pics on Instagram. These influential mamas aren't gonna hide while they pump, and may change the way the world (and product designers) see this necessary accessory.

1. Gail Simmons 

Top Chef's Gail Simmons looked amazing on the red carpet at the 2018 Emmys, but a few days after the award show the cookbook author, television host and new mama gave the world a sneak peek into her backstage experience. It wasn't all glam for Gail, who brought her pump and hands-free bra along on the big night.

We're thankful to these women for showing that breast pumps belong in public and in our Instagram feeds.

[Update, September 21, 2018: This post was originally published on May 31, 2018, but has been updated to include a recent Instagram post by Gail Simmons.]

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In the moments after we give birth, we desperately want to hear our baby cry. In the middle of the night a few months later it's no longer exactly music to our ears, but those cries aren't just telling us that baby needs a night feeding: They're also giving us a hint at what our children may sound like as kindergarteners, and adults.

New research published in the journal Biology Letters suggests the pitch of a 4-month-old's cry predicts the pitch they'll use to ask for more cookies at age five and maybe even later on as adults.

The study saw 2 to 5-month olds recorded while crying. Five years later, the researchers hit record again and chatted with the now speaking children. Their findings, combined with previous work on the subject, suggest it's possible to figure out what a baby's voice will sound like later in life, and that the pitch of our adult voices may be traceable back to the time we spend in utero. Further studies are needed, but scientists are very interested in how factors before birth can impact decades later.

"In utero, you have a lot of different things that can alter and impact your life — not only as a baby, but also at an adult stage," one of the authors of the study, Nicolas Mathevon, told the New York Times.

The New York Times also spoke with Carolyn Hodges, an assistant professor of anthropology at Boston University who was not involved in the study. According to Hodges, while voice pitch may not seem like a big deal, it impacts how we perceive people in very real ways.

Voice pitch is a factor in how attractive we think people are, how trustworthy. But why we find certain pitches more or less appealing isn't known. "There aren't many studies that address these questions, so that makes this research especially intriguing," Hodges said, adding that it "suggests that individual differences in voice pitch may have their origins very, very early in development."

So the pitch of that midnight cry may have been determined months ago, and it may determine part of your child's future, too. There are still so many things we don't know, but as parents we do know one thing: Our babies cries (as much as we don't want to hear them all the time) really are something special.

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I was feeling off the other day. Something wasn't right, and I couldn't seem to put my finger on it or kick it for that matter. As the day progressed, it didn't get much better. It was a typical day for us, with the usual 2-year-old meltdowns and chaos that happens when you have two babies close in age.

Nothing was out of the norm, but I just wasn't feeling completely like myself. And right after getting my daughters to bed, when I was alone with my thoughts, the feelings intensified. Through the silence, I heard a soft and familiar voice criticizing my mothering, telling me "You don't do anything right." "You are failing your kids."

My anxiety was attacking me, knowing I am weakest on my own. But I knew what I needed to do. So I took out my phone and dialed, listening to the ringing on the other end.

Waiting for the person who always comforts me.

Who always makes everything better.

Who has the magic words when it comes to calming my soul.

"Hi." She answered the phone.

"Hi Mom," I said, as my voice cracked. I can mask my pain for everyone—but her.

"Everything is going to be okay," she reassured me from over the phone as I broke down to her. I hung up feeling so much better. Because—truly—there is nothing in this entire world like a mother's reassurance. I know that not everyone has this kind of relationship with her mother. That, I am indeed one of the lucky ones—but we can all hope to become this for our own children.

And you, mama, contract that magic right when you give birth.

This magic doesn't make you perfect and all-knowing. No, you don't have all the answers. No one has that. You just need to be you—your sweet baby's mama. That title comes with that last push or lift out of the womb. It could also come if your baby is handed over through adoption or surrogacy.

It doesn't matter the means, the magic comes the second your baby is placed into your arms. It comes with a force so strong it leaves a mark on your heart. It transforms you into a mother. You are enough just by being that person who opens her arms and accepts this baby as yours forever.

Your soft-skinned newborn is placed on your chest, shrieking, tears dripping down her cheeks and onto her pout. The little muscles in her chin trembling with such force, her face is on the verge of turning bright red. Then you cuddle her close and feed her. "Everything is going to be okay." She finds peace in the warmth of your body, her skin on your skin.

There is nothing like a mother's reassurance.

When your baby becomes a toddler, and he falls and gets his first scrape, screaming, because it's a new kind of painful sensation—an open wound. "Everything is going to be okay," you say to slow his tears and scoop him up into your arms. You clean that scratch out and apply Neosporin.

You put a Band-Aid on, sealed with a kiss, and wipe away his tears. You will always be there to pick him up when he falls—literally, now...and figuratively, in the future when he is grown.

There is nothing like a mother's reassurance.

When she goes to her first day of preschool, and you have to separate from each other. She cries as you hold your tears back, as you assure her, "Everything is going to be okay. Mommy always comes back." And of course, you do, and you hold onto those words yourself—repeating them to stay strong.

Because when you are together, everything is right again. You let her go because it's the right thing to do.

There is nothing like a mother's reassurance.

When he gets his heart broken for the first time, he will feel like the only person that truly knew him has abandoned him. He'll feel as if he will never find that again. He may not have the proper coping mechanisms yet to deal with that level of pain.

He comes to you in tears over losing the love of his life. You comfort him and assure him "Everything is going to be okay." Because you know this as fact because he is the love of your life. And, one day, if he has a child—he will feel the same way.

There is nothing like a mother's reassurance.

When life kicks her in the rear-end. When she is struggling to find her place in this wild world, feeling so alone. When she needs support. She doesn't ask you directly, but your mom intuition whispers to you, pulling on that mark on your heart, and so—you make the call.

"Everything is going to be okay," you say into the phone. The sky won't fall and Chicken Little will not witness the world ending because she can't figure it all out right this second. Finding her place in this world will take time, but it will happen. Right now, and for always, you are her safe place, her landing pad.

One day our babies may have babies of their own. When they are sad they will say, "Everything is going to be okay."

They will know that sometimes all our children need is reassurance from us—their safe place. Their soul-soother. Their heart.

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There's something that every child needs to believe with every cell in their bodies. When they do, they will thrive. There is a powerful way that we, as the adults in their lives, can nurture this belief and set them up to learn, grow and flourish.

They need to know that their brains can grow stronger—measurably stronger—with time and effort. It sounds simple, but the effects of believing this are profound. Some children will have been born believing this, but others will be certain that they are as they are and that nothing will change that.

There is no doubt that encouragement and praise are vital for kids of all ages, helping to lift them to great heights, but not all praise is good praise. The research around this is robust, leaving little doubt that different types of praise, though given with the most loving intent, can potentially be harmful to our kids and teens.

Children generally tend towards one of two types of mindsets: a fixed mindset or a growth mindset. Praise that focusses on intelligence promotes a fixed mindset, which is the belief that intelligence cannot be changed in any meaningful way. Children with a fixed mindset believe they are born with certain character traits and a fixed amount of intelligence and creativity, and that nothing they do will change that in any meaningful way.

In contrast, praise that focuses on effort ('You've worked really hard on that!) promotes a growth mindset, which is the belief that intelligence can grow and be strengthened with effort. Children with a growth mindset believe that they are capable of achieving what they want if they put in the time and effort to get there.

Fixed mindset vs. growth mindset

The effects of mindset are remarkable. Here are some of the big differences between a fixed mindset and a growth mindset.

Giving Up (Fixed) vs. Persistence (Growth)

  • A growth mindset fosters motivation, resilience and persistence. A fixed mindset kills it. Children who believe that intelligence lies with the genetically blessed are quicker to give up, believing that if they can't do something, it's because they aren't smart enough, creative enough, good enough, whatever enough. Children who have a growth mindset on the other hand, are more likely to keep working hard towards a goal, believing that all that stands between them and success is the right amount of effort.

Lack of Confidence (Fixed) vs. Confidence (Growth)

  • Children with a fixed mindset are more likely to interpret difficulty as confirmation that they don't have what it takes. If success means they are clever ('You did it! You're so clever!'), then a lack of success means they aren't. Once children believe this, their lack of confidence spills into other tasks, eventually wearing down their motivation and their love of learning.Praising children for effort will lift them above the times they don't do as well as they would like—which, let's be honest, happens to all of us. They will interpret a lack of success as a sign that they need to work a little harder or differently, rather than as evidence of a personal deficiency.

Avoid Challenge (Fixed) vs. Embrace Challenge (Growth)

  • When given the choice between a challenging task or an easy task, children with a fixed mindset will be more likely to choose the easy task. If children believe their intelligence is fixed and impossible to change, it is understandable that they will choose easy tasks to prove themselves. This leaves very limited scope for the vulnerability needed to learn and grow. Learning is all about starting at the edge of our capabilities and pushing beyond them. That will mean sometimes failing, sometimes falling, and sometimes admitting that, for the moment, we haven't got a clue. Children with a growth mindset will embrace challenge, seeing it as an opportunity to learn and grow.

Failure: Personal Deficiency (Fixed) vs. Opportunity to Learn (Growth)

  • Children with a fixed mindset will be more likely to interpret failure as evidence of their lack of intelligence or capability.Failure isn't so bleak for kids with a growth mindset. They have a healthy attitude to failure, seeing it as an opportunity to learn. Even when they are disappointed, they are able to keep their confidence intact and bounce back from the stumbles, believing they have it in them to succeed if they keep working at it.

Hiding the Struggle (Fixed) vs. Seeking Help (Growth)

  • Children who believe their performance will be attributed to intelligence, or to something about themselves that can't be changed, will be more likely to hide their struggles and lie about their mistakes. In Dweck's research, almost 40% of children who had been praised for intelligence, compared to 10% of children who had been praised for effort lied when they were asked to anonymously disclose the number of mistakes they made. When children believe that intelligence is fixed they will identify themselves as 'smart' or 'not smart'. Rather than seeing mistakes as a sign that they may need to work a little harder, they will see mistakes as evidence of a lack of inherent capability and will work harder to stop the world from seeing them as 'stupid' or incapable.On the other hand, children with a growth mindset will be more likely to seek help when something gets in their way, believing the capability is in them, but they just need a hand to find it.

Nurturing a growth mindset

A growth mindset will supercharge their capacity to learn and grow. We know that for certain. Parents, teachers and any important adult in the life of a child or adolescent has enormous power to steer them towards the happy headspace of a growth mindset. Here's how:

1. Tell them, over and over and over that 'brains can get stronger'

As if being a brain wasn't impressive enough, they've proven to be all the more remarkable by showing how much they can change. 'Brains can get stronger.' Say this over and over to the kids in your life until they're reciting you or telling you to stop—and then keep going. The more they can believe this, the more empowered they'll be to keep doing what they need to do to strengthen that powerhouse in their heads. Here is one way to explain it to them.

'Imagine that in your brain are billions of tiny lightbulbs. There is a lightbulb for everything you could ever do. There's a dancing lightbulb, a maths lightbulb, a soccer lightbulb, an imagination lightbulb, a science lightbulb, a cooking lightbulb, a flying a plane lightbulb... You get the idea. The thing is, they only turn on when you do what they are there for, so not all of your light bulbs will glow all the time. Some of them will never glow at all. That's exactly as it should be. Nobody is great at absolutely everything!

The really cool thing about these lightbulbs is that the more you turn them on (by practicing whatever it is they're there for), the brighter they glow, and the brighter they glow, the stronger your brain. The first time you try something, its lightbulb will only glow a little bit but the more you practice and learn that thing, the brighter that lightbulb will glow. Remember, not all of these lightbulbs are glowing all the time—only the ones that have been turned on.

If you never ride a bike, for example, the riding-a-bike lightbulb won't glow at all. The first time you ride a bike, that lightbulb will glow just a little bit. The more you ride your bike, the brighter the riding-a-bike lightbulb will glow. It might take a lot of practice before your riding-a-bike lightbulb is as bright as your teeth-brushing lightbulb but when it is as bright, you'll be just as good at riding a bike as you are at brushing your teeth.

Of course, your teeth-brushing lightbulb is very bright because you brush your teeth every morning and every night! When it comes to riding bikes though, you might fall off a few times but that doesn't mean that you can't be great at riding bikes. It just means that you're not good at riding them yet. You're still charging up that lightbulb.

Every time you learn something or practice something, you're turning on a lightbulb and strengthening your brain. In the same way exercise makes your body strong by strengthening your muscles, learning and practicing makes your brain strong. You're very capable of learning things and strengthening your brain, but no brain is going to build itself. All brains can all be strong, smart and capable of amazing things, but they need you to work and make the lightbulbs glow... and you can do that brilliantly.

2. Pay attention to effort over results

A grade that has been earned with hard work, whatever that grade is, should always be rewarded before something that was achieved without effort.

You studied hard for that exam and your marks show that.

It was a hard assignment but you didn't give up. You kept going and working hard and you did it! I loved the way you kept trying different things under you found something that worked.

3. Catch them being persistent

​Any time you see them putting in effort, working hard towards a goal or being persistent, acknowledge it. It doesn't mean you have to gush with praise every time they apply themselves, but it will mean a lot to them that you notice. 'You're working hard at that aren't you.'

4. Be specific with praise

Attach your praise to something specific. Rather than 'You're really smart,' try 'It was really clever the way you experimented with a few different ways to solve that problem. Nice work!'

5. Encourage a healthy attitude to failure and challenge

Speak of failure and challenge in terms of them being an opportunity to learn and grow.

6. Use the word 'yet', and use it often

When they say 'I don't know how to do it,' encourage them to replace this with, 'I don't know how to do it yet.' Keep doing this and soon they will learn to do this for themselves. Self-talk is a powerful thing.

7. Show them they don't always have to be successful to be okay

Kids don't learn what they're told, they learn what they see. Let them see when you hit a snag (when it's appropriate of course) and let them see you being okay with that. Talk about the things you learn when something doesn't quite go as planned.

If you take a wrong turn, for example, point out the interesting things you notice now that you're on a different road. Failure is part of learning and has absolutely nothing at all to do with how clever or capable they are. It's an opportunity to learn, in disguise.

8. Encourage them to keep the big picture in mind

It's where they end up that matters. The stumbles on the way are just part of the learning and the way there. Learning takes time and the path won't be straight – it will be crooked and interesting and full of great opportunities, exactly as it was meant to be.

9. When they do well without effort

For a student who does really well without putting in any effort, it's still important to hold back from making it all about how clever or capable they are. Instead, Dweck suggests trying, 'Ok. That was too easy for you. Let's see if there's something more challenging that you can learn from.'

10. And when they put in the effort, but don't do so well...

If they've worked hard but haven't achieved what they wanted, notice the effort. This will nurture their confidence, resilience and motivation to keep learning and working hard. 'I loved seeing the effort you put into that assignment. Let's see what you can learn from for next time.'

11. Give permission to fail

Take the anxiety out of learning and put back the love. Giving kids permission to get it wrong sometimes will broaden their willingness to take risks and experiment with better ways of doing things. This will expand their creativity, problem solving and readiness to embrace challenge.

And finally...

Intelligence is not fixed and can be flourished with time and effort. Nurturing this belief in children is one of the greatest things we, as the adults in their lives, can do to help lift them so they can reach their full potential. The effort will come from them, but it's important that we do what we can to have them believe that the effort will be worth it.

Originally posted on Hey Sigmund.

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