Our recent posts on praise and encouragement gave me a great idea for today’s edition of “Friday Favorite.” I want to share one of my most favorite concepts to cultivate resilience and persistence in my children. This is the idea that the brain is like a muscle…a muscle that gets bigger and stronger every time it is worked out. I was introduced to this concept when I read about the work of Dr. Carol Dweck, a child and social psychologist, in the book, NurtureShock. If you are interested in reading more about Dr. Dweck’s research on motivation and self-regulation for yourself, the link below is to an insightful interview she did with Gary Hopkins, the editor-in-chief of the online resource Education World®:
Dr. Dweck’s strategy to teach children that they can train their brains to be stronger and smarter is one I have come to really love because I have found it to be such a simple yet effective tool to use in my own home. Here are a couple examples to show how this concept has made an impact on my family. One of my favorite things to do during our drive to school, especially on days I know one of my children have a test or activity they are a bit anxious about, is to take moment and quiz them with, “What happens to your brain when it works on something hard?” I always enjoy hearing them answer that their brain is getting bigger and I really love watching them relax a bit with this basic reminder that no matter the outcome of the test or activity that day, through their effort alone, they have done something beneficial for themselves.
A second example comes from my daughter. Learning to ride a bike was something she was always very apprehensive about. Last year, when she was 9, we moved to a new street where a lot of kids were out riding their bikes every evening and she really wanted to be able to join them. We spent some time discussing the fact that she would not learn how to do this if she didn’t exercise the “bike-riding” part of her brain. I suggested that she start to work out her brain by picturing herself riding and I reminded her that in order for that part of her brain to grow we had to go out and give it some practice. A few days later she stated she was ready. We went outside and after only about 10 minutes of me running around holding the back of the bike…off she rode alone.
Kellie also had a great example of this lesson’s impact on her own family and she shares it here:
I used the brain as a muscle concept with my 5 year-old daughter last week while we were working on a puzzle together. After a few minutes she raised her voice in frustration saying, “This is too hard!” In that moment I brought this concept to her level by explaining to her that just like you build strong leg muscles when running and strong arm muscles when playing on the monkey bars, you build your brain muscles when you work through something that feels hard. This was enough to get her back into working on the puzzle with me. After it was complete I mentioned how hard she worked and my daughter then said with a smile, “I have a strong brain!”
I hope all the information and examples provided above will help you see exactly why I value the idea of teaching that the brain is like a muscle. It really is one of my favorite tools to use to support and encourage my children to remain resilient and persistent when attempting new or challenging tasks. I hope that by sharing it today it might become a new favorite for you too!