The Emotionally Healthy Mindset (in Children)

New ideas clarify the emotionally healthy mindset.

Posted Feb 19, 2020

I think anything is possible if you have the mindset and the will and desire to do it and put the time in. —Roger Clemens

Merriam-Webster defines mindset as “a mental attitude or inclination,” while the Oxford Living Dictionaries calls it “the established set of attitudes held by someone.” The word mindset goes back to 1920 when it was first used by educators to describe someone’s mental habits gleaned from life experience—mind (noun) and set (verb). Mindsets are formed by what we learn and how we experience the world.

Fast-forward to 2006, when Carol Dweck revolutionized the concept of mindset with her book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, helping to bring the idea of a growth mindset into a global discussion. She writes that “in a growth mindset, people believe their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work—brains and talent are just the starting point.” What I love about a growth mindset is that it empowers children and inspires optimism because nothing is fixed. A child can learn from her mistakes, pick herself back up again, and then try again—whether her goal is to become a junior lifeguard or to feel less nervous while test-taking.

Emotionally healthier children have a growth mindset, which helps them learn from their mistakes. They also realize that everything can be used as fodder for their best life, which helps soften disappointments, failures, and rejection. The failed test is simply signaling you may have to study more or in a different way. When children recognize that emotions are simply signals to what’s happening inside them, they can take note, learn from the situation, and move forward, ready to create a better feeling, even if it’s a tough day.

Coaching children to see themselves as capable and able to learn from their experiences helps them to adopt a growth mindset as well as become emotionally healthier. Though the mindset of emotional health reaches beyond the growth mindset, it is a pivotal idea because every child needs to know they can learn, change, and grow from their experiences and efforts.

Understanding this mindset

Changing your mind is changing your mindset. Every child’s mindset is a work in progress, but early on they begin to form beliefs about their emotions and whether they can express them or need to run from them at all costs. The emotionally healthy mindset, which begins with learning the seven ideas from my book, The Emotionally Healthy Child, is something we can cultivate in our children over time. Complementing what children need to know (those ideas) are certain characteristics of the emotionally healthy mindset, which are marked by a child who:

  • sees emotions as neither positive (+) nor negative (-)
  • stays in the present moment
  • faces the present with courage (strength, grit, inner confidence)
  • seeks positive choices (for self and others)
  • allows emotions to come and go without clinging (attachment) or avoiding them (aversion)
  • uses emotions as a guide toward well-being

The emotionally healthy mindset isn’t all rainbows and unicorns, but a child with this mindset simply faces any emotion with courage and lets it move through her. Jenny is thrilled she’s going to zoo camp this summer, and Marcus is saddened that his best friend, Jake, is moving to another state. Jenny and Marcus are experiencing different feelings, but they aren’t ignoring them, suppressing them, or having knee-jerk reactions to them. They’re facing their emotions and expressing them constructively.

References

Dweck, Carol. (2006). Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. NY, New York: Ballatine.  

Healy, Maureen. (2018). The Emotionally Healthy Child. Novato, CA: New World Library.