The opportunities of the future lie with those who have the confidence to spot them and audacity to go after them. “Today, the shift from ‘I’ve got a neat idea’ to ‘I run a billion-dollar company’ is occurring faster than ever,” as Peter Diamandis put it. It starts with a growth mindset, and growth mindsets are developed in childhood. Under-utilised potential exists in adults everywhere you look, but we can get kids off to the right start by being intentional.
David C Hall is committed to the success of future generations. Hall is managing director of Potential Unlocked Tuition, a UK-based training company that creates “fulfilled, successful, transformed lives.” His team has supported thousands of children from struggling at school to feeling in control, confident and happy. Hall wrote the bestselling book, The Empowering Parent, and advises government and educational establishments on unlocking the potential of children.
I interviewed Hall about how parents can set their kids up for happy and prosperous futures, by nurturing a mindset of growth.
Create an empowering home
A child spends most of their time at home so it’s crucial that it forms a foundation for a growth mindset. “Home should be an enjoyable, happy place where we live, laugh and learn,” explained Hall. His work has shown that “parents who provide a warm and responsive home environment that encourages exploration accelerate their children’s intellectual development.”
A young person feeling calm and relaxed in their house, before and after school, is more likely to develop their interests or feel confident to experiment or express themselves. A home filled with anger and angst means suppressed emotions and suppressed potential. “Children need stable, supportive home environments to enhance their cognitive, emotional and physical wellbeing,” added Hall, who urges parents to think about “all the human and material resources present within the home that affect the child’s life.” These include the “socialising facilities available in the house; how well it’s set up for conversation and play.” It also includes the parents’ stress levels, health and mindset. Happy parents make happy kids and happy kids learn and grow at an accelerated rate.
Fixed routines might seem like the paradox of a growth mindset, which evokes fluidity, but structure can empower and provide the springboard for possibility. “Empowering family routines give the home environment a predictable structure that creates a stable emotional climate,” explained Hall. This will “support child development and academic success.”
Having worked with parents, educators and policymakers to enable young people “to enjoy passion-driven careers and be positive contributors to society,” Hall has created three main strategies for developing empowering family routines. The first is awareness. “Keep a diary for one month, making notes of what time you do specific activities, including what time you and your child wake up in the mornings, when you eat, when you study.” Awareness, Hall said, helps “to identify time wastage and any disempowering routines” that lead to longstanding habits that are difficult to break.
The second is intention, where you plan and create your routine together based on your priorities. “Planning activities within a structure requires less conscious thought.” It means the default is that you create and explore, not just switch on the television. It could mean the default is that you make healthy food together, not grab something greasy in a hurry. Planning avoids leaving an empowering routine to chance. Finally, Hall advised to “pre-empt hurdles to your daily priorities and activities and plan potential solutions.” What if the alarm clock doesn’t go off? What if something comes up? What if you don’t feel like that swimming lesson? Discussing, in advance, how you will handle obstacles can develop the ability to visualise and plan, key components of a growth mindset.
Work with the school
A kid who does well in school not only thrives academically but also in confidence. Having a positive school experience leads to an increase in their intrinsic motivation and desire to grow. Hall explained that “improved relationships between teachers and students as well as between student groups” can “positively influences their cognitive development and socialisation.” Unlocking a child’s potential requires “a collaborative and cooperative relationship between the school and the parents.” Teamwork makes the dream work.
Seeing school as a fun place, with a world of opportunities, means talking about it positively. Seeing the good in teachers and classmates. Looking for opportunities to learn and being enthusiastic about the timetable. “How a parent talks about a school will unconsciously pass on to their kids,” added Hall. “Complaining about teachers or facilities draws a child’s attention somewhere they may not have otherwise noticed.” Only commenting on the good can train a young person’s mind to see possibility instead of fault. Undermining school processes can be tempting but it can hinder the growth mindset of a young person. Better than complaining is better questions. “Who can you talk to today?”, “How can you make the best of your day at school?”
Talk about careers differently
Hall explained there are two ways of talking about careers. One is the occupational paradigm, “concerned with choosing a career path influenced by societal status, circumstances and remuneration.” The other is the vocational paradigm, derived from the Latin word “vocare” which means “calling”. “A career based on the vocation paradigm leads to a fulfilled and transformed life as someone’s work is aligned to their purpose.”
This means a far better question than, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” is “What do you want to do when you grow up?” Or better, “What do you love doing now?” Encouraging someone to explore the “blend of gifts and talents unique to them” is what Hall says leads to happy futures that make tangible impact on the world. Rather than going down a certain path based on an arbitrary job title, a young person thinks in terms of their skills and interests. Rather than “I want to be an electrician” it’s, “I enjoy fixing things. I’m good at solving problems.” Once these interests are developed, they can be applied anywhere, someone isn’t condemned to a fixed path.
Make and track progress
Hall is dyslexic and grew up being labelled an “underachiever” whose ability was four years behind his peers. Rather than accepting this prognosis of his potential, Hall created strategies to improve his academic performance. These strategies led to him achieving GCSEs five grades above what his teachers predicted. Hall’s work now identifies the kinks in the development chain to create a new and improved learning system, unique to each child.
“Whenever a child is underachieving, there is a system malfunction. The job of parents and educators is to identify the broken learning system and replace it with a more effective one,” Hall explained. “This will build a child’s intrinsic motivation, so they can achieve the grades they are capable of.” Three components Hall said underpin an effective learning system are a “positive state of mind, a learning journal and effective strategies for recalling and applying concepts.”
Developing a growth mindset in a young person can be helped along its way by interventions. An empowering home with established, empowering routines, coupled with working in partnership with the school, can set someone up for success and mean they are motivated to be their best. Talking about careers in terms of vocation rather than occupation, plus making and tracking progress, can start someone’s trajectory in a positive way, ensuring they create habits that will serve their future.
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