Mind

This Mindset Can Reduce Stress and Help Raise Smarter Kids

Nurturing a growth mindset can help moms cope better with stress and anxiety, and make their kids better learners—here's how.

By Shreya Maji
19 February 2022

No matter how hard you try and how much you prepare yourself with knowledge, motherhood can often seem like an unending series of uphill challenges: you might find yourself frustrated, exhausted, sad or just plain angry. Due to the cultural and social beliefs around motherhood, as a mom, you are constantly expected to meet unrealistic standards and do it all: look after your children, juggle housework and career and social lives, tend to the needs of other family members and pay attention to finances, while also managing countless other external pressures and challenges. Modern mothers are also forced to compare themselves to others, and this is made worse by social media. Looking at other moms with their constantly well-behaved, talented children in their picture-perfect clothes and beautifully arranged birthday parties can start a vicious cycle of making you wonder: “What is her secret? What am I doing wrong?”

 

Stress is a natural outcome of everything you are compelled to handle. Although some level of stress is normal, especially in the first year of your child’s life, research published in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry shows that high levels of maternal stress can get in the way of forming a healthy bond with your child and even affect their cognitive development negatively. This is where the mother’s growth mindset, says new research, can play a protective role.

 

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What is a Mother’s Growth Mindset?

The term “growth mindset” was developed by American psychologist Carol Dweck. In her book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, she describes it as the belief that with hard work and perseverance, you can constantly develop your abilities—as opposed to a fixed mindset, in which you believe that intelligence and potential are static and inborn, and cannot be changed. When you have a growth mindset, you are able to look upon challenges as learning opportunities, and view failures as situations that can be changed with effort. Someone with a fixed mindset would think of a problem in terms of “I can’t do this”, or “I’m just not good at this”, while those with a growth mindset would think of it as, “This is hard, but I will try to do it”, or “I can learn how to do this.”

 

The type of mindset you have as a mother can greatly affect how your stress impacts your child’s life, shows the 2022 study titled Maternal Stress and Early Neurodevelopment: Exploring the Protective Role of Maternal Growth Mindset, published in the Journal of Developmental and Behavioural Pediatrics. In this study, researchers looked at the stress levels of mothers with 12-month-old babies, while using infant electroencephalography (EEG) to look at the brain activity of the child. For moms with fixed mindsets, the EEG activity was lower when they reported high levels of stress, but for moms with a growth mindset, the EEG activity was not affected by changes in the mother’s stress levels. The research concluded that having a growth mindset encourages children to be better learners, and protects their neurodevelopment from the negative effects of the unavoidable experience of maternal stress.

 

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Does the Growth Mindset Benefit the Mom?

Absolutely. According to a meta-analysis published in 2020 in Clinical Psychology Review, that studied research carried out over 31 years, a growth mindset was seen to be connected to lesser stress, anxiety and risk of depression, and a better coping ability with unforeseen challenges. But beyond reducing stress, instilling the growth mindset will also help you to relicaliberate how you look at challenges and failures brought about by motherhood. It will allow you to recognise that you do not need to constantly chastise yourself for your shortcomings or any mistakes you make, as they are natural, human, and opportunities for you to learn and grow.


How Can You Nurture a Growth Mindset?

Carol Dweck theorised that people do not have a permanent fixed or growth mindset. If you do not possess a growth mindset, it is possible for you to nurture one through self-reflection, reassessment of your abilities, and deliberate effort. Speaking to a therapist is the best way to change a fixed mindset. But to get started, you can make use of the following steps:

 

1. Challenge your internal dialogue:

There is no such thing as a perfect mom, regardless of what societal messages might want you to believe. When you mess up at something and feel guilty or not “good enough”, try to challenge that train of thought: is whatever mistake you made truly unfixable? Did you not gain any experience or insight from this mistake? Failure means acknowledging the hard times and shifting your perspective. Speak to yourself as you would to a close friend: with kindness, understanding and empathy.

2. Celebrate all your little achievements:

Our culture makes us focus more on the negatives rather than the positives. To counteract your negative thoughts, try to think of all your small victories throughout the day. It could be as simple as getting your child to eat breakfast, finding some time to play with them or successfully finishing all your chores. Your small wins will keep you motivated to tackle bigger challenges.

3. Let go of the idea of “doing it all”:

To build a healthy bond with your child, what you need is not the superpower to perfectly juggle all aspects of your life. According to attachment theorists like John Bowlby, being emotionally present for your child and being attuned to their feelings is the best way to develop a secure relationship with them. When you are struggling to cope with day-to-day challenges, remember that you only need to keep in mind what is best for your child. Also, every mom does not have the same kind of responsibilities or resources available to handle them. Do the best that you can in your situation.

 

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