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Process over Product

Why and How

Remember the time when your child was in preschool and would spend all of their energy creating a masterful finger painting? Remember how, even after all of the time and dedication instilled in that painting, they left it under the table in their classroom, or shoved it between your car seats? In fact, given their propensity for tossing aside their final works, whatever they be, one can only wonder why, years later, they are so stuck on their Infinite Campus gradebook, measuring each grade as a testament to their self worth. What caused that shift from living in the moment to ignoring the moment and living for the final grade?

The shift was us...

The mindset of our children shifted right about the time we, as parents, dug that piece of art out from between the car seats, praised our kids for their amazing creation, and hung it proudly on the wall. Then next year, we did the same thing with their spelling test, their history project, and then bragged to anyone who would listen about the room full of their Lego creations. It shifted when we focused entirely on the outcome and never praised or acknowledged how many times they failed to mold the clay just right to make the mug work before finally succeeding, or how many times they had to take apart the Starship Enterprise before they got all of the pieces together correctly.

The shift happened when we ignored the process and put all of our praise and acknowledgement on the product.

The negative outcome of a focus on outcomes and products is a fixed mindset. We end up training our children that how they perform is who they are and that this identity is static. For students who make mistakes or miss the mark the first time around, a fixed mindset teaches them to believe that they can never improve - they are “bad” or “not good enough” - and that is just who they are.

For children who learn quickly and excel, an outcome oriented focus fosters a sense of entitlement to achievement, giving you an overconfident kid who will not be able to navigate the inevitable obstacles facing them as they develop.

To the contrary, a focus on process develops a growth mindset. With a growth mindset children have greater, long term success in school, and in life, because they have learned that the steps that go into reaching an outcome are valuable. This type of praise (process praise) is empowering, it develops grit and perseverance, and it allows children to grow into teenagers and adults who can solve problems and navigate obstacles, take setbacks in stride, and ultimately develop an accurate self identify.

How To Encourage Growth

Use process praise as your daily language:

  • You really studied for your English test, and your improvement shows it. You read the material over several times, outlined it, and tested yourself on it. That really worked!

  • For the student who works hard and doesn’t do well: “I liked the effort you put in. Let’s work together some more and figure out what you don’t understand.”

  • For the student who gets an A without trying: “All right, that was too easy for you. Let’s do something more challenging that you can learn from.”

  • I like the way you tried all kinds of strategies on that math problem until you finally got it.

Encourage And Model Mistakes

  • Acknowledge your own failures and the work you put into your successes.
  • Create conversations where everyone in the family shares a success and failure from their day.
  • Acknowledge the fun, teamwork, or character development that went into participation in a sport or activity over who won or who is “the best.”
  • When giving chores or tasks around the house, give children a chance to develop their own approach and then praise their problem solving, innovation, or process, even if they come up short.
  • Model conversations about how you can improve your own work, performance, or habits.

Want to know more about your mindset? Take this survey and find out more about your own beliefs.

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