Mother’s Day is only a fortnight away and many educators are reflecting on how – or if – they should help children celebrate the occasion.
Instead of craft templates, today we’re introducing you to Beth Sebesfi, an early childhood teacher and writer who also happens to be the ever-learning mother of three girls now aged between four years and five months.
Beth’s first story for Amplify is on parenting with a growth mindset, drawn from an experience with her eldest daughter, Chloe.
While Beth is enviably ‘qualified’ compared to many parents, her article reminds us of the doubts, dismays and quiet achievements behind every smile or frown you see from parents at the morning drop-off and afternoon pick-up. We think this story could find a place in many of your newsletters – let us know in the comments if you do too.
Perhaps the best gift any educator can offer to a parent this Mother’s Day is nothing scented, sparkly or under a ribbon, but, quite simply, support and understanding.
At the far end of the skate ring, five little figures in oversized shirts readied themselves to run. Their smiles were enormous, their eyes determined, their fists clenched for that super speed boost that obviously comes from “scrunch hands”.
Ready… steady… go!!
Five little people launched themselves from their start line, squealing with excitement, and darted across the court.
And a sixth little person, a little blonde person known for coming first, started dawdling behind them, backwards, in literal slow motion.
This was our third week in organised sport and she wasn’t going to bother.
I felt myself becoming more and more agitated as the lesson went on. She wouldn’t follow instructions, she wouldn’t (couldn’t?) keep up, she wasn’t even trying.
Not her thing
Chloe is used to applause. She’s used to knowing the answers and getting the dances right and swimming the furthest and being the best.
“This is so not her thing,” I thought, and I resolved internally to finding a gymnastics class for her the following term – I’d paid for another 8 weeks of this sports thing though, so she’d have to stick it out for now.
As we sat in the cafe afterwards, sharing ‘cinos, Chloe told me that she “couldn’t”. She told me her little legs were too tired and she would prefer to sit with me and eat crackers.
And suddenly, I had a major realisation.
Chloe knew I would rescue her.
Chloe had never failed before in her life.
Chloe didn’t want to try, because Chloe has never had to try before.
Send a message
I was about to give her the message that if it didn’t come easy, she didn’t have to work for it.
“Hey Mia,” I said to my middle daughter. “do you know why I was proud of you today?”.
“Because I did great kicking?” She supposed… there had been no kicking, but I digress.
“Nope. Because when you started you couldn’t get the ball in the hoop, and you tried and tried and at the end, who got the ball in the hoop!”
“I did!”, she exclaimed, her smile as big as the chocolate stains on either side of her cheeks.
“That’s what’s important. I just want you to keep trying. Sport’s for learning, not just for winning!”.
Mia loved this idea. Chloe didn’t say much in response.
Role model fail
I’m not a great role model in this regard. I’ve never been great at team sports and I’ve never needed to be. I can sing, I can swim; I’m more of a creative type.
I remember compulsory PE with the same fondness as childhood gastro. I remember feigning injury to avoid participating. I remember rolling my eyes at what a complete and utter waste of time it was. and because I never tried, I never failed.
I also remember the time I missed a high note in a performance of Les Miserables. I remember feeling sick about it for days. I remember feeling completely worthless, like I actually couldn’t sing at all, like everyone thought I was somehow a fraud.
And I remember failing a maths test in year 10. Not just doing a bit poorly – failing. I hadn’t studied and I hadn’t paid attention in class – I didn’t need to, things just came easily to me. And I remember ripping it up and hiding it from Mum, pretending it had never happened. I didn’t continue on with maths in year 11 and 12.
The concept of the Growth Mentality has matured into a mainstay of mental health in education in recent years.
The idea, developed by a US psychologist named Carol Dweck, is that people will develop either a fixed mentality – this is who i am and what I’m good at, and very little can change that; or a growth mentality – that we can improve our knowledge, skills and abilities with effort. A growth mentality doesn’t say “I can’t”, it says “I can’t – yet”. It’s a reason to keep trying.
No prize for guessing which side of that fence I’ve been hanging out. My self image was defined by a limited set of skills, and if anything challenged that I just didn’t cope. It’s been something I’ve struggled with my entire life.
Whenever educators ask me about my goals for Chloe, my answer is always the same. Resilience. Resilience. Resilience. I want her to be able to bounce back in a way I’ve always struggled to. I want her to be ok with failing.
Time for a shakeup
In that moment, I decided my parenting needed a shakeup. I hadn’t been modelling a positive growth mentality – but I was going to start.
Over the days that followed, Chloe and I had that same discussion several times. In the car the next day, I didn’t tell her her singing was fantastic; I told her that if she kept trying she’d get all the words right, and we listened to it again.
I didn’t tell her the picture of a dog she scrawled half heartedly was amazing, I asked her to tell me about it then asked if she’d like to move her drawing table to the downstairs window and finish the drawing where she could see our dogs for reference.
I didn’t tell my family that her dancing was incredible, I told them that she was getting better and better at her routine every week. I asked her to show me what she was working on so that we could try to improve the technique together.
In the weeks that followed, I noticed her language changing. “I’m learning” replaced “I can’t”. At the park, she gave the monkey bars a try – it was ok that she fell, she hopped back up and asked another child what their strategy was. She rode her bike off the path and put a hole in her leggings. She got straight back up again.
When it was time for sport, she tried. and she still wasn’t all that good at it.
And you know what?
She loved it.
She tried to do a sideways throw and hit her teacher in the face. And they laughed, she apologised, and they tried again.
She tried to kick a footy and fell on her bum. She shook her head, she got up, and she tried again.
The smile got bigger, the falls got harder, and by the last week of term she was on that start line with five other little figures in oversized shirts, ready to give it a go.
It’s still not her thing. She’s learning. We are learning together.
And it’s possibly the best thing we’ve ever done.
Beth Sebesfi is a proudly self declared unconventional advocate for children’s rights in the early years.
After spending ten years believing she’d found her calling as a teacher, then manger, then regional manager, then curriculum consultant, Beth was confronted by the incredible disparity between professional and parental perspectives of the sector when she became a mum.
Torn between her desire to be a ‘regular mum’ and her complete inability to sit still, Beth began offering support services to families seeking to better understand their young children’s learning and development via her online consultancy and parenthood brand, Bayberry Blue.
Today, Beth writes to inspire families and educators to understand contemporary professional philosophies, research and understandings in a personal, practical way. She is proud to work alongside her three daughters; Chloe, Mia and Layla, who love to offer their voices; new and insightful perspectives or unexplained, spontaneous musical interludes, to every professional encounter.