Raising children can be a daunting task. As parents, one of our many jobs is to equip our offspring with knowledge and abilities that can help them enjoy learning about the world around them, and ultimately, become successful in life. One important tool we can help instill in kids is a can-do attitude.
“A can-do attitude is about learning how to respond to failure in a positive manner,” says Dr. Pam Fitzgerald, associate professor in the College of Psychology and Behavioral Sciences at Argosy University, Seattle. “Parents can help their children view failure as an opportunity to learn. They can encourage and reward the child’s effort rather than the outcome.”
This emphasizes for children the value of hard work as opposed to linking all praise to the outcome of any attempt to do anything. Failure or not, with any given endeavor children with a can-do attitude tend to develop positive feelings of self-confidence and self-worth simply because of trying.
“Learning a can-do attitude at a young age shapes the way children approach challenges and respond to failure throughout life,” says Dr. Fitzgerald. Research psychologist Dr. Carol Dweck calls it a “growth mindset.” Dr. Dweck shows in multiple studies that children who have a can-do attitude are more likely to try new activities, persevere through adversity or failure and set goals for high achievement; qualities every parent would be happy to see in their children.
“It is important for children to understand the changeable nature of abilities,” says Dr. Ian Wallace, counseling psychologist with the California Maritime Academy. “Children who see their abilities as fixed often decide that they just can’t do something and give up easily. Simply understanding the idea that abilities can improve incrementally can help foster a child’s desire to hone skills to increase his or her own ability.”
How can parents teach a can-do attitude? They can adopt it themselves and teach by example. “By modeling a can-do attitude of optimism, perseverance, and resilience, parents can teach their children the value of this approach,” says Dr. Fitzgerald. “With this attitude in place, parents can provide and encourage opportunities to develop a can-do attitude for their children at any age.”
As parents, it is important to provide the support and guidance that children need to take the next step toward learning in whatever context arises. Dr. Fitzgerald suggests encouraging young children to explore new forms of play and learning. For school-age children, “a can-do attitude can be encouraged in group projects or study groups,” she says. “In both team and individual sports, a can-do attitude can be encouraged by coaches and parents.
If your child is older and you have not yet helped to instill guidance on a can-do attitude, don’t be discouraged. “It is never too late to change one’s attitude or approach,” says Dr. Fitzgerald. “I work with college students of all ages and part of my work with them is developing a growth mindset that they can apply to their schoolwork, personal relationships, and other situations. Although some people may have greater difficulty adopting a can-do attitude, everyone is capable of change, especially children. A can-do attitude can not only help people reach their goals, but it also can help them lead more satisfied and fulfilling lives.”