Meet the Teacher Night Remarks: The Power of “Yet”

Earlier this summer Annie, my four-year-old, decided to tackle a climbing wall at a local playground. Despite her eagerness, I could see the trepidation in her eyes as she struggled to find a foothold. At some point, she uttered that cry of frustration that every parent has heard a thousand times, “I can’t do it!”

Parenthood involves a lot trial and error, right? So I tried an experiment. I said, “Try saying, ‘I can’t do it yet.’ You can’t climb this wall yet. But if you keep trying, you’ll figure it out.”

You see, I recently watched a TED Talk by Dr. Carol Dweck about the power of the word “yet.” Dweck is the Stanford professor who pioneered research in growth mindset — the idea that intelligence is responsive to effort. In her talk, she describes how emphasizing the word “yet” helps children see themselves on a learning curve. Their current struggles aren’t final; they are just a starting place! Just because they can’t do something yet, doesn’t mean they won’t get it in time. That’s powerful for kids of all ages. 

Is your child struggling with a math theorem or a soccer move? It’s not that they can’t do it; they just can’t do it yet. But with patience, practice, and perseverance they can shift their mindset from “I can’t” to “I can’t do it yet” to ultimately, “I can do it – what’s the next challenge?”

As for my daughter, we think this message is sinking in – at least on good days. It took many attempts and a few stumbles, but she finally she scaled that wall, and “I can’t” turned into a triumphant “I did it!” And last week, we caught her telling her little brother, “Don’t get frustrated, buddy. You can’t build a block tower yet, but keep trying!”

One final thought. I know that when you send your children to school each morning, first and foremost you want them to feel safe and supported. You also want them to feel intellectually stimulated and appropriately challenged. And you want them to develop the confidence and skills they’ll need to solve problems and face challenges. When I meet with parents, often think of these words from writer Elizabeth Stone, “Making the decision to have a child is momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body.”

This middle school faculty gets it. We really do, and we are here to help. We see how they arrive in fifth grade as children and leave eighth grade as confident young adults — despite (or perhaps because of) the bumps they encounter along the way. Your kids need your love and support, but they also need room to figure things out on their own.

We live in an incredibly connected age, and in so many ways that is so wonderful. We are always an email, text, or instant message away from each other. The temptation for you to reach out to them – or for them to reach out to you – during school hours is real. It’s easy for your child to send you a quick message after drop-off: “Help! I left my project on the kitchen counter! Bring it please, please, PLEASE.” Do them a favor: Leave the project there. And when they come home and ask you to solve a problem for them, listen . . . but then nudge them to devise and try out their own solutions. When we give them this space – cushioned by our watchful care — more often than not they will return to us with a triumphant, “I did it!”

That said, if you have a nagging concern about your child’s academic or social progress, please don’t keep it to yourself. At Trinity Valley School, we are always here to help. We are your partners, and we want to make sure every child is seen so that every child can thrive.

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