Elements of a Confident Kid… Open-minded
– willing to consider different ideas or opinions.1
Why would open-mindedness be a hallmark of a confident kid? We all have developed cognitive structures from our environment and our set of experiences that form the basis of our understanding. When we receive new information, we begin to build upon or adjust those structures to fit the information. Open-mindedness relates to how we approach anything that is unknown or different to us. Is it scary? Is it disruptive? Are we curious? Are we interested? Perhaps it is all of the above. But an individual who is open-minded wants to discover, explore and know more because of the sheer intrinsic value of making meaning and enhancing understanding. Carol Dweck, author of the book, Mindset; The New Psychology of Success 2 provides ample evidence in her book that a growth mindset, open to new possibilities and curious about how to solve problems, will have a greater chance at innovative thoughts and actions, collaboration with others and ultimately achievement of goals. Each time an individual faces a problem, she relays, whether extremely challenging or fairly simple, they can approach it in one of two ways. A fixed mindset comes to the problem with a perception of her own abilities and intelligence and believes that either she can or cannot solve the problem based upon fixed qualities within her. The growth mindset, however, faces the problem with an attitude that anything can be solved or understood through time, persistence and hard work. The growth mindset digs in and loves an opportunity to learn.
The benefits of being open-minded are many. They are nothing short of the ability to think and act creatively, to work collaboratively with others, to engage in deep learning and to expand knowledge and abilities. In the early childhood years, educators are increasingly realizing and integrating executive function skills into the curriculum as a core predictor of later academic success. Amongst those executive function skills is cognitive flexibility, a child’s ability to switch mental gears from one subject or train of thought to another.3 In addition to diverse ideas, as children progress through school years, they will encounter individuals who are differently-abled, differently gendered, differently raised. Will they be enriched by those differences and learn from them or be threatened or resistant?
Strategies to promote open-mindedness
Perhaps the best way for all family members to cultivate open-mindedness in a household is to become aware of your own responses to problems. When a child faces academic challenges at school or pushes boundaries in your household, how do you react? Do you face those challenges with a learning, growth mindset?
1. Model figuring things out together. Working collaboratively with a partner or a child will help provide practice for your child in how to approach a problem in a way that will position him to work toward a solution. For ways to help talk through a problem solving process when the issue is between children, check out “Working It Out.”
2. Model receptivity and interest in differences. In the informal setting of family life, it can be challenging to avoid judgmental statements about neighbors, friends or family members. But the more you can use the language of understanding, compassion and acceptance of differences, the more your children will internalize that ability and translate it to their relationships at school and in their friendships when you are not there to support and encourage them.
3. Use scaffolding. When a person is introduced to an idea that is completely different than anything they have previously encountered, it can cause fear and/or frustration as individuals work to make sense of the new information. As parents, we watch our children encounter these leaps often with introductions to new persons, places or events. Watching my son learn to read is a powerful example of how a child needs to make sense of sounds and symbols and pull together a vast amount of information to make meaning of text. Strong teachers build upon what students already know to link new knowledge to the prior experiences. So in your home life, look for ways to relate new experiences to old ones. Cuddling up with a book together has always been a positive experience with no work involved. Now when we cuddle up, it takes work on my son’s part and patience on mine but it is tied to past experiences that are familiar and comforting.
4. Use the Language of Acceptance and Caring. Young children particularly have a difficult time making distinctions between a person and their actions and choices. A child is tempted to say “I don’t like Billy.” when Billy takes her toy. Instead help her rephrase and reframe her thoughts to say “I don’t like that Billy took my toy.” Every child makes poor choices but each child can feel like they still belong in a family, classroom or friendship circle.
5. Encourage Cross-Age Kindness and Connection. Whether you have siblings or
neighbors of various ages, there is an opportunity to create relationships with children who
are different – going through different developmental milestones and experiencing different
friendships and curricula during the school day. This becomes great practice for acceptance and inclusion. Do not allow children in a neighborhood group to be marginalized. Encourage your child to be the one to reach out and include a child who is being left out. With siblings, encourage older siblings to care for younger ones and involve them in play at the level they are able.
6. Participate in activities and create friendships with people not like you. It’s mind
expanding to do things as a family with other people in the community from different ethnic
and cultural backgrounds. Help your children learn about other cultures and people who look different and do things differently than your family. This past week at school, a guest who is blind came to my son’s classroom to read them a story in braille. I was so glad that he had that opportunity to see someone who was differently-abled read proficiently in an alternative way as he is tackling the steep learning goal of reading himself.
7. Dialogue, share varying perspectives and raise open-ended questions. When your child brings a story home from school about another child’s decision, talk about it. Why do you think he choose that action? What were other options? Could there be more to the story than we know? Why do you think the teachers reacted in the way that they did? Reflecting and raising questions about everyday encounters and decisions helps children not only formulate their thoughts and the underlying values associated with particular issues but also helps them to realize there is not one way of being or doing. There are many options in any circumstance. Children can become open-minded as they consider multiple perspectives and motivations for choices made.
8. Assume the best intentions. When examining your child’s, a partner’s or a school friend’s motivation, first, assume the best. Work to figure out the other’s perspective knowing that there was likely a reason, and a good one, behind the choices made.
Particularly as I watch and support my son as he tackles increasingly challenging learning goals, I know it’s critical for me to model a growth mindset. I welcome this chance and challenge to help me frame my own issues in ways that will not only help me deal with them but also further my own development.
For related articles, check out the following.
Merriam Webster Online Dictionary. Retrieved on 10-21-2014 from http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/no.
Dweck, C.S. (2006). Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. NY: Ballantine Books.
Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University (2011). Building the Brain’s “Air Traffic Control” System: How Early Experiences Shape the Development of Executive Function: Working Paper No. 11. Retrieved from http://www.developingchild.harvard.edu