How Parents Can Become ‘Minding’ Parents
In his recent blog, Jake Gallinger talked about facilitating the development of adaptive anxiety in your child, as proposed by psychologist Dr. Alex Russell when he visited Bialik this fall. Dr. Russell suggests that one of the strategies for accomplishing this goal is the concept of “minding” one’s children and becoming a “minding parent.” What he means is that you are present and attentive to your child’s experiences. You are there for them, while removing your personal investment in their successes or failures, recognizing that these are theirs, not yours.
As parents, it is natural to want to praise our children. We feel a sense of satisfaction when, in our eyes, they do well and we feel our words of approval are helping foster a strong sense of self. We often subconsciously over-identify with our children’s success, seeing their achievement (or lack thereof) as a reflection of ourselves. We tend to live vicariously through our children and this accounts for our emotional involvement in their success. (We even have a well-loved term for this — shepping nachas!)
Dr. Russell strongly advocates that a child’s success must be theirs, not their parents’. He advises parents to follow the admittedly challenging and often counterintuitive step of recognizing that the child’s school career trajectory and life choices belong to them. He has found that parental anxiety is debilitating to their children’s growth and, in fact, stunts their emotional development. However, when successfully minding our children, we provide safe and fertile ground for growing their self confidence and emotional resilience.
Here is a scenario with which many parents can probably identify:
Your child brings home a piece of artwork, and, no matter how it looks, you comment along the lines of “What a great painting. You’re so talented.” Understandably, in your eyes, anything your child creates is praiseworthy. Let’s stop for a minute and think a little more deeply about this: a response that is pure praise, like in the example above, brings a rapid end to any conversation. The child has performed, and you have issued judgment. While well intentioned, you have missed a valuable opportunity to help your child grow.
How else could you have handled this situation?
Minding your child allows you to show that you care equally about the good and the less good. Instead of judging (through your praise), you could open the door to a conversation with a comment as simple as “Wow.” The child will then sense the opening and explain more about their piece. As the child “unfolds” in front of you, you have the opportunity to be present and attentive. You might follow up with a validating comment on their work ethic, such as, “I see you worked very hard on this. Your efforts paid off.” In this way, your child learns that you are there for them and they can engage with you. They can either own the pride or take responsibility for a less than successful piece.
Such a structure represents an apprenticeship for real life. The child learns that you believe them to be capable and able to handle what it is they are doing and their inner resilience grows.
Much has been written about the value of promoting a growth mindset, a concept proposed by Carol Dweck, a professor of Psychology at Stanford University. Linking this to Dr. Alex Russell’s ideas, when parents praise instead of minding, they inadvertently promote and reinforce a fixed mindset.
At school, it is the teacher’s responsibility to offer evaluative feedback within a context of specific learning goals and expectations. As a parent, the power of minding resides in the listening: when your child tells you what happened at school, this is an opportunity for you to absorb what you hear and reflect it back: “I see how you are feeling. Sometimes you’re not invited and that sucks”. Your empathy is so powerful. You are allowing your child to direct the conversation and think about how they can strategize and manage their situation.
Effective minding enables your child to learn from their life experiences and develop the resources to adapt productively in potentially anxiety-evoking situations.