Yesterday my daughter came home with something on her back that only I could see. It was a limiting belief she had started to grow like a hunchback about not being smart in math. She is in Grade 1! And has already decided that she is not good at subtraction.
As her mom I was alarmed, upset and worried. Not so much about her achievement in math at school nor about her future opportunities down the road. What bothered me was witnessing how easy it is to grow such a limiting belief, a belief that would influence her entire math experience at school and furthermore, and more significantly, her self esteem and identity.
Our minds make up stories, that’s what they do. My daughter saw that she submitted her work in last on the math booklet (due to her perfectionism and her tendency to be chatty) and then created this story that she is not good at math in general and at subtraction in particular.
Normally our tendency as parents would be to disagree with her saying: “Honey you are so smart, I know you, you can do great in math.” The problem with this attitude is that once the belief is there nobody can change it for her. The only way to change it is to support the child in creating a positive experience that will lead her to tell herself a different story – a positive one.
With this specific situation, which countless parents have encountered before, I have decided to buy her a math activity booklet, a subtraction flash card deck, I found relevant games online and invented some of my own to play with her, like passing a ball to each other while asking and answering a math problem. Working with easy subtraction and building it up gave her a sense of success. The variety of activity contributed a fun element to it. The most important gain was her growing practice, which led to more success.
After just a couple of days she changed her identity statement from “I am not good at math” to “I am smart at math”. There is a lot of work and practice to be done but being attentive to her belief rather then focusing on her achievements gave me the opportunity to support her in changing her self-perception.
When our child has a belief, as far as it might be from the truth and as destructive as it might be, it is true for her. We need to respect that rather than to counter it because it will break the rapport and the trust between you. We need to support our kids in finding ways to create different beliefs/stories that will serve them better.