Getting and Staying Unstuck

Brenda is an ICF certified coach with a specialization in Academic Life Coaching & Youth Advocate Coach Training. She is an experienced homeschool parent, has a therapeutic foster care license and is an adoptive mom. To learn more about Brenda or her coaching services you can go to or find her on Facebook and LinkedIn.

I can’t!

I’ll never get it!

It’s too hard!

I’m just not going to try!

As parents and/or teachers, we have all probably heard (or said??) these exclamations come out of the mouth of a hurting and frustrated child. There is a lot of fear backing those often plaintive and sometimes angry sounding phrases. Fear that we can help eliminate with some incredibly simple adjustments in our mindsets and how we praise the children in our lives.

Carol Dweck, a professor of psychology at Stanford University did a fascinating study on how to help children tap into motivation and determination as well as embrace challenges. Through her work, she explores what she calls the Fixed versus Growth Mindset.[1]

Simply put, a fixed mindset is the idea that we have a set level of intelligence and natural ability that will remain relatively stable throughout our lives, but is also something we can’t change or increase. A growth mindset on the other hand is the idea that natural ability and intelligence are fluid. With enough work and effort, children (and adults) can be awesome at anything.[2]

When we hear I can’t or I’ll never get it that is our cue that the child before us is operating in a fixed mindset. The fear they are feeling is based on enormous pressure to perform and get it right, RIGHT NOW, since they have an underlying belief that talent or ability can’t be increased. Every challenge becomes a judgement on that fixed ability and thus personal identity.[3]

Wow! I know I don’t want that for the children in my life and I’m sure you don’t either!

The key to helping kids make a shift in mindset is incredibly simple. All we need to do is make a slight adjustment so we emphasize the value of effort and the belief that with enough work a future goal can be accomplished. As we do this, we release the pressure off of the outcome of a challenge, and place the focus on putting in the work of practicing, performing, learning, etc. If ability can be improved and if talent is malleable and can be earned through effort, then motivation to keep trying in the midst of challenges becomes the most important thing.[4] The immediate outcome holds less value as learning and process are celebrated. This sets kids free!

So how does praise fit in here? As we shift to a growth mindset, we will start emphasizing effort and work as more important than the immediate outcome. We need to make sure our praise reflects that adjustment. How do we do that? Focus praise on effort, work, and strategy instead of intelligence, natural talents, or the right answer.[5]

It takes some practice and awareness to consistently praise effort, work and strategy, but I can share from my own experience the effort is worth the reward. When I altered how I praise my children, it was as if a huge weight was lifted off of them. A weight I didn’t even realize was there. Suddenly a most hated task or class subject became a favorite . . . a mistake was a learning opportunity not a personal judgement. Learning became fun, challenges were exciting and freedom to be in process was celebrated. My kids were free to be kids.


[1] &

[2] ALC TS2 Coach Training Notes

[3] ALC TS2 Coach Training Notes

[4] ALC TS2 Coach Training Notes

[5] &

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