5 Mindset Shifts That Will Guarantee a Successful School Year For Your Child

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When you look at your child, do you see all of their potential for greatness, their unique and engaging personality, and their special gifts and talents that could make a huge impact on the world around them?

Well, if YOU can see all this wonderful stuff about your child or teen, then why can’t THEY? 

Remember that one of the primary goals of Modern Parenting is to raise young people who feel confident pursuing their natural talents and abilities so that they live a happy and fulfilled life while positively impacting their community and the world around them. As a child psychologist, I’ve seen first-hand how quickly anxiety, depression, and low self-esteem grab ahold of a young person when they feel useless (i.e., they believe there isn’t anything special about them) and disconnected from their immediate community (family and friends).

Motivation, or the capacity to accomplish tasks and goals – even though they might be hard or frustrating – is significantly impacted by mindset. The wrong mindset can derail motivation to complete a task in a nanosecond! This is because many young people have the wrong idea when it comes to motivation – they believe that motivation just comes to them from out of the blue. They also believe that they can’t do anything UNTIL THEY FEEL MOTIVATED.

But you know what? Research tells us that the opposite is true – that our effort has to show up BEFORE the feeling of motivation does.

That’s where the right mindset can make all the difference. The right mindset allows young people to get started on an important task BEFORE they feel motivated – and to ride the wave of motivation all the way to the finish line when motivation eventually shows up.

You know what I’m talking about, right? As kids or college students, we all had to finish homework assignments we didn’t like. Later in life, we had to perform tasks that weren’t exactly fun – like cleaning our house, filling out useless paperwork on the job, or paying bills – and somehow, we did all this without feeling overwhelmed by the feeling of motivation. I don’t know about you, but I’ve had to drag my rear end out of my comfy chair and clean my house more times than I can count – all without really wanting to.

I put in the effort first (I got out of my chair and grabbed the cleaning products) and then rode the wave of motivation to finish the task (I got more excited to live in a clean house the more I cleaned the house).

Today’s article is the first one in a series on motivation. I believe that self-motivation, or the ability to accomplish tasks and goals without the oversight or aid of someone or something else, needs three important ingredients: the right mindset, structure, and context. This article provides training on five categories of mindset: positive vs. negative mindset; delayed gratification vs. immediate gratification mindset; abundance vs. scarcity mindset; smart risk vs. “play it safe” mindset; and effort vs. manifesting mindset.

After finishing this article, you’ll be able to identify the unhelpful and dangerous ways of thinking that lead to a lack of motivation, underperformance, and the squandering of potential greatness. Once you can identify these unhelpful ways of thinking, you’ll also have the strategies needed to create helpful and powerful mindsets that are an important driver of motivation.

 

Positive vs. Negative Mindset

I’ve seen too many young people give up before they even try anything because of their negative mindset.

“I can’t do that – so why try?”

“I’ll look dumb.”

“It’ll probably never work out.”

“People will laugh at me!”

“I don’t want to [insert activity here] because I’ll look like a beginner, and I don’t want to look like I don’t know what I’m doing.”

Young people with a negative mindset automatically focus on a single negative outcome to almost all situations, which, in turn, influences them to feel a range of uncomfortable – and intolerable – emotions, everything from fear to anxiety to panic. Because young people with a negative mindset have difficulty tolerating these uncomfortable emotions, they tend to give up easily, as soon as a situation or task becomes hard.

Young people (and adults, for that matter!) with a negative mindset become experts at finding reasons (i.e., excuses) for why they just shouldn’t put effort into things. They like to stay in their comfort zone, as this feels safe to them (you’ll learn more about why your child needs to get out of their comfort zones and take smart risks later in this article).

Negative thinking kills motivation before it even begins, while positive thinking invites motivation to stop on by and stay for a while. 

Before I lose you, I want to clear up a huge misconception regarding positive thinking. So many people wrongly dismiss the concept of a positive mindset too quickly before they really understand its power over human behavior. 

I get it. Some people are naturally inclined to look on the positive side of things, while others tend to gravitate to a less positive mindset. To some people, it might feel like advising someone to be more optimistic is an overly simplistic way of avoiding the realities of the world. Some people might think that looking on the bright side of most situations is a way of deluding themselves.

People aren’t deluding themselves when creating a positive mindset; they’re empowering themselves and taking the first step toward success.

However, in my experience, positive thinking isn’t about avoiding reality or re-creating history to match our happy view – it’s about being brave enough to adopt a mindset that allows someone to see all the possibilities of a situation – and to believe that anything is possible with effort.

And research backs me up. You might already know that research has shown a link between positive thinking and physical health – people who identify as positive thinkers have a better immune system, lower rates of anxiety, and consume lower levels of junk food than their peers, but you might be surprised that positive thinking has also been associated with several quality-of-life factors as well. Optimists work longer, earn more, get more promotions at work, save more money, and are tempted to take fewer dangerous risks (i.e., alcohol and drug use, impulsive actions, etc.).

The bottom line is this: positive thinking expands a young person’s ability to problem-solve and increases their confidence to try new or hard things, which, in turn, creates a domino effect of success.

Here’s an example of what I mean. Young person A has a positive mindset, while Young Person B has a negative one. Both young people are in high school and have an interest and natural talent in performing and acting. 

When tryouts for the school play come up, both want to try out, but Young Person B talks themselves out of it. They stay in their comfort zone and make themselves feel better by using a litany of excuses. They tell themselves that other kids who are better than them will get all the parts, or that the director doesn’t like them and only gives parts to the popular kids, or that their friends will make fun of them. 

Basically, they talk themselves out of the opportunity.

On the other hand, Young Person A tries out for the main role in the play, even though they’re scared of getting rejected or looking like an amateur. When roles are announced, they learn that they didn’t get the main part they wanted but did get a participating role. While disappointed, they accepted the role and had fun performing it. Then, next year during tryouts for a new performance, they tried out again and got the leading role because they now had the experience needed to take on such a big task.

This is the power of positive thinking – it’s a process whereby one acknowledges the risks and realities of a situation while also putting most of their cognitive energy into focusing on a successful outcome and the steps it takes to get there.

 

Delayed Gratification vs. Immediate Gratification Mindset

The second mindset that greatly impacts motivation is a delayed gratification mindset. 

Delayed gratification is the ability to delay a reward or pleasant experience in the present in order to gain an even better reward or experience in the future.

Motivation doesn’t exist without goals, and goals don’t get completed without delayed gratification. Young people must be able to handle the uncomfortable emotion of denying themselves a reward or pleasant experience in the moment to gain bigger and better things in their future.

Homework doesn’t get completed unless a young person chooses to deny themselves the fun of scrolling through social media or playing video games for an hour. 

Interests and hobbies don’t get accomplished and enjoyed unless the young person takes the time to show up to regular practices, games, and/or meets.

Now, here’s where I get some resistance from parents when I talk about the delayed gratification mindset. Many parents want to tell me that their young person just doesn’t have the capacity to deny themselves, whether it’s because they have impulse control issues due to ADHD or that their child just doesn’t care about their future because of some other emotional or behavioral issue.

But they’re wrong. 

Just like every mindset in this article today, this mindset can be strengthened and improved. It just takes practice.

Why am I so confident that this is true? Because not only have I seen many young people improve their capacity to delay their gratification after working with them, but research again supports this.

Many of you are familiar with the landmark study on kids and delayed gratification – the marshmallow study. If you’re not familiar with this study, a group of researchers wanted to know if the self-control of kids could be positively influenced. To answer this question, they set up a study where, one at a time, they put a young child in a room that had a plate with a big, fluffy marshmallow. And then they left the room to see what would happen.

Not surprisingly, they found that most kids ate the marshmallow before the researcher returned.

Ok. Now they wondered what would happen if they specifically told the kids to wait to eat the marshmallow until the researcher came back. So, they recruited a new set of kids, and this time before leaving the room, they told the kids that if the marshmallow was still on the plate when the researcher returned, then they would receive two marshmallows to eat instead of just one.

So how many kids were able to display the self-control needed to earn the bigger reward? 

Again, most of the kids decided that waiting for a bigger reward in the future wasn’t worth it, and they ate the marshmallow before the researcher returned.

So now it looks like kids just naturally can’t control themselves, right? That momentary pleasure always outweighs future rewards – but our researchers had one more trick up their sleeve. They wondered if they could teach the kids to be more patient, and if they could, this would mean that impulse control – delayed gratification – is a skill that can be taught and improved.

To put this theory to the test, they enlisted the help of another group of young people and plopped the fat marshmallow on the plate again – but this time, they broke the kids into three different groups: one group got to have toys in the room with them, the second group was coached to think of the reward of two marshmallows at the end, and the last group was exactly the same of the previous experiments. 

The toys from the first group provided a distraction activity meant to jumpstart the child’s willpower muscle – AND IT WORKED!

The young people who used a distraction activity to manage the uncomfortable thoughts and feelings that occurred while waiting for the researcher to come back into the room were much more successful at delaying gratification and earning the two-marshmallow reward.

Delayed gratification CAN be taught and strengthened with practice.

 So how do you do this at home? 

The first step is to believe that your child is capable of delayed gratification. No more walking on eggshells around your child or giving in to their poor behavior or teenage attitude because this way of parenting actually makes their delayed gratification muscle weaker

From now on, you’re going to view their delayed gratification ability as a muscle – and these times where they struggle with it is like pumping that 50lb weight at the gym. They need to struggle in order to build that muscle, and you’re their coach, helping them during the process.

 The second step is to help your child practice delayed gratification in a smart and effective way. Just like building muscles at the gym, start small, slowly work your way up to longer delays, and above all – BE CONSISTENT. 

 

Abundance Mindset vs. Scarcity Mindset

An abundance mindset is one where the young person believes that there are enough resources, attention, and talent to go around for everyone. When they need these elements, they will be there for them, and these elements will often show up when they put in the effort. They believe that they have control over the good things they want out of life –attention from their parents and friends; resources like nice things and opportunities; or the ability to confidently exercise their natural talents and passions. 

In contrast, a scarcity mindset is one where the young person believes that there is a finite amount of resources, attention, and talent and that they have no control over the allocation of these elements. This leads them to believe they have to compete for these elements because if they don’t get them now, someone else will, and then they’ll be gone forever. Often, young people who believe that there are finite resources will resort to manipulation or deceitfulness to get the resources they want. Instead of focusing on their own talents and abilities, they mistakenly think that “tearing down” someone else will make them look better.

But that’s just not the case.

An abundance mindset is essential for motivation to happen. When young people believe that their effort brings about good things in their lives, they’re much more willing to do the work necessary to make their goals and dreams happen. I’ve seen too many kids in my office sabotage their goals and dreams before they even begin when they see their peers around them achieving great things. 

Instead of being inspired by witnessing their peers accomplish great things – and thinking that they could bring these same great things to their own lives – these young people become discouraged because of the belief that there are no more great things out there.

Young people with an abundance mindset:

  • Experience less stress – they don’t feel as much pressure to be perfect right away because they know they will get what they need in the end
  • Have more friendships – they’re easy to be around because they don’t feel the need to compete with their peers
  • Feel more confident in exploring their passions and interests – they know they have to start at the beginning and get better over time, so they don’t worry about how they look while participating in something they enjoy.

So how can you help your child practice more abundance and less scarcity in their life? First of all, by identifying the language that signals scarcity. Below are some examples:

“I don’t want to do it if I can’t be good at it.”

“I don’t want to do it if she does – she’s always better than me.”

“He might have made three goals in the game, but you know he’s not as good at Pokémon as me.”

You can encourage your child to adopt an abundance mindset by:

  • Identifying and validating their natural talents and abilities: This will go a long way in helping them feel comfortable with their own talents and abilities.
  • Teaching them to “share the spotlight”: This is an exercise that we teach our younger patients at MPS where they learn to let other people acknowledge their good stuff and to recognize the good stuff of their peers too. This will give them practice in seeing that everyone has unique talents and abilities and that it’s ok to celebrate another person’s success.
  • Point out that filling up someone else’s bucket doesn’t empty their own: This is another visualization exercise that helps young people practice understanding that they don’t have to compete with the people around them because there are enough resources, attention, and talent for everyone to flourish. Your young person’s bucket will never run out of water.

Where the positive mindset opens the young person’s mind to all the possibilities of success, the abundance mindset gives them the courage and confidence to pursue the tasks and goals in their life.

 

Smart Risks vs. “Play it Safe” Mindset

 I get so sad when I have a young person in my office who shows great interest and talent in something but fails to pursue it because they are too afraid of feeling uncomfortable. 

Some young people come to me with a history of negative situations. Maybe they “put themselves out there” and were mocked, ignored, or made fun of by the people around them. That situation likely caused embarrassment, shame, and sadness. 

Another reason some young people dislike going outside their comfort zones is that they were never pushed or encouraged by their parents. This caused these young people not to have the necessary skills when these situations arise.

Motivation gets destroyed before it can even begin when young people prefer to stay in their comfort zones at all costs. However, there’s definitely a balance between encouraging young people to take dangerous risks that could lead to physical danger and pushing them to take smart, emotional risks in order to grow.

I’m not suggesting that we encourage our young people to follow through on every thought that goes through their minds, but I think it is important to help our kids see the value in pushing themselves to try new things and take emotional risks. 

For example, when young people begin a new activity or behavior, they risk feeling rejected, looking “stupid,” feeling dumb, etc. Still, for growth and mastery to happen, sometimes our young people will need to experience these emotions before they get to experience the more fun emotions of pride, mastery, and accomplishment. 

We just need to teach our young people how to tolerate being emotionally uncomfortable for a little while to experience a huge emotional payoff later (hello again, delayed gratification!).

So how do you teach your young person to take smart, emotional risks?

  • Teach them that it’s normal to feel weird or uncomfortable when doing something new, but that this feeling doesn’t last long. So many young people tell me in my office that they hate the feeling of not being good at something. Teach your young person that this is an unavoidable – but temporary – first step when starting new things.
  • Avoid modeling or requiring perfectionism in your home. When young people believe perfectionism is the goal, they often get so overwhelmed that they avoid doing anything that might jeopardize them from meeting this measurement. To help them have the confidence to try new things, emphasize the importance of trying your best over perfectionism. 
  • Teach your child to replace the phrase “win or lose” with “win or learn.” The only way to get better at something is to learn through mistakes, trial and error, or iteration. Teach your child that losing isn’t the end; it’s only the beginning.

If you have a child or teen who seems very reluctant to try things out of their comfort zones, you might want to read this previous article that gives you even more tips and strategies on how to help your child in this area. It even comes with a free worksheet to help you even further!

 

Effort vs. Manifesting Mindset

This final mindset strategy brings together all of the previous mindset strategies discussed earlier in this article. I think you’re seeing that in order for self-motivation to begin and to thrive, a young person needs to be open to the benefits of their own effort, that this effort has a strong possibility of making their lives better in the long run, and that getting better at something is a messy, but rewarding, experience.

The point here is that EFFORT is the fuel of self-motivation – life doesn’t just happen to us; we’re creating it with everything we do.

Manifesting is one of the biggest trends in self-help and on social media right now. Many influencers on Tik Tok tout the benefits of creating a vision board full of big houses, fancy cars, extravagant vacations, and perfect romantic partners. If you dream it and put it out there into the universe, it will come true. Or so they say.

The philosophy of manifesting your dreams and wishes into fruition (termed the law of attraction) isn’t a new idea, but it has exploded in popularity due to several best-selling self-help books over the past several years. The problem is, there is absolutely no empirical evidence that voicing your dreams and wishes – and then sitting back waiting for them to appear – actually works! 

I can’t tell you how many young people have sat in my office over the past year and said, “I’ll just manifest that!”.

I just want to scream!

The reason the manifesting mindset annoys me so much is that these young people don’t take any responsibility for putting in any effort for their dream or wish to come true. They just leave it up to the universe, and then they get disappointed when their dreams or goals never happen.

For example, earlier in the year, I had a young patient who had to get a certain grade on their math test in order to pass the class. It was close to the end of the school year, and this young person needed a good grade on their last test if they wanted to avoid summer school. When we discussed strategies for preparing for the test, the young person dismissed my concern by telling me they were busy manifesting the grade to happen—no need for me to worry at all.

Needless to say, this young person did NOT enjoy their time in summer school this year.

As much as I dislike the manifesting craze, there is a kernel of effectiveness lurking within it. The part of manifesting that causes young people to identify and visualize goals and dreams is super effective – but they just can’t stop there. Goals and dreams don’t materialize unless we put effort into making them a reality.

In order to really do battle with the manifesting craze going on in my office, I decided to do some research on it so that I had the language necessary to help my young people see that manifesting without effort was a pipe dream.

I came across a book by Tara Swart, a neuroscientist and manifesting advocate, called The Source. In this book, she dispels the assumption that wishing hard enough makes manifesting happen; instead, she shows there is some real science taking place during this process – but only when effort is involved in the equation.

Dr. Swart’s ideas on how neuroscience is involved in manifesting are too involved for this article, but a short explanation is that we can make our dreams and goals come true by way of our brain – how we think, feel, and act. If we can visualize our dreams and the stepping stones involved in making those dreams happen, then “manifesting” takes place.

Dr. Swart even updated the popular vision board exercise to better align with her view of manifestation. Instead of calling it a “vision board,” Dr. Swart calls her version an “action board.”  The action board contains the same elements of the vision board – the dreams and wishes for the future – but she also includes elements that represent how to make these dreams happen. For example, if a new car is on the vision board, she would suggest including how you plan to make the extra money needed to afford the car (maybe working 5 hours overtime each week) and a timeline for making it happen.

So what do you do when your young person wants to manifest their homework done while they scroll through their favorite social media feeds? Challenge them to also visualize how it’s going to get done. Chances are they’ll talk themselves into putting down their phone and getting it done.

 

Take Home Message

In this first article in my motivation series, I wanted to show you how important mindset is to motivation. We have to teach our young people that they can’t wait for motivation to show up before starting on the tasks that will bring about our goals and dreams. 

We have to show up before motivation does – and with the right mindset.

All five mindsets – positive vs. negative mindset; delayed gratification vs. immediate gratification mindset; abundance vs. scarcity mindset; smart risk vs. “play it safe” mindset; and effort vs. manifesting mindset – all provide the right environment for motivation to grow once we begin the effort.

After reading this article, you now have the tools to identify ineffective mindsets and how to turn those unhelpful mindsets into effective ones. Changing your child’s mindset isn’t easy – it takes patience, practice, and consistency – but you’ll be glad you put in the effort.

The next article in the self-motivation series is on transformative autonomy: how to go from a parent-centered environment to a child-centered one. The information in this article adds to what you learned about mindset and shows you how to teach your child to develop into a young person who wants to make good decisions for themselves without a lot of oversight by you. 

So what should you do now?

First of all, download any of the free resources listed below. Every workbook and guide below will help you get started on the path to helping your child or teen develop a healthy mindset that invites motivation to drop by.

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Download the FREE resource that goes along with this podcast episode:
Step-by-Step Checklist to Help Your Child Take Risks The Smart and Effective Way
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50 Examples of turning Common Negative Thoughts Into Positive Ones
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Preparing Your Anxious Child For a New School Year Checklist