Saturday, March 05, 2016

'Yet' blunts our unfinished tasks

From today's Briefing:
Tiny, unassuming “yet” wields all kinds of power.
I’ve been using the word more often the past couple of years, as I’ve become acquainted with the concept of a growth mind-set vs. a fixed mind-set, via the writings of Stanford professor and psychologist Carol Dweck.
Dweck relies on research to show the benefits of praising effort, not intelligence. She extols the value of making mistakes. And she writes and speaks persuasively about the power of “yet.”
“Just the words ‘yet’ or ‘not yet,’ we’re finding, give kids greater confidence, give them a path into the future that creates greater persistence,” Dweck says in a TED Talk watched more than 3.9 million times on YouTube.
Dweck’s ideas have influenced the way I teach my fourth-graders.
“We don’t all know how to identify the theme of a story yet,” I might say, “but we will keep working together until we all do.”
The word lets my students know that it’s OK to ask questions, that it’s OK if some peers have mastered a skill while others are still working, that mistakes are essential to the learning process.
The idea of a growth mind-set — that we can work to improve and develop abilities — has also influenced the way I raise my two children.
When a child is struggling with a task — conquering a piece of tough music, completing a challenging homework assignment — my encouragement relies on “yet.”
“It’s OK if you haven’t met your goal yet,” I might say. “Keep working, and you’ll get there.”
The word has given them freedom, signaling that perfection isn’t expected or even normal, and that hard work matters.
Now, I’ve got to start applying “yet” to myself.
I walk around with a long mental list of things I haven’t done as a parent. The self-imposed infractions include:
Lack of a baby book for either child
Inadequate personal finance lessons
Incomplete exposure to quality music and classic movies
An unfulfilled promise to help switch up bedrooms
I carry the guilt of these big-ticket items along with the everyday guilt associated with rushed mornings, forgotten permission slips, distracted conversations, clipped responses.
Lately, I’ve been practicing by adding “yet” to the end of my regrets.
I haven’t helped Katie study for her spelling test this week … yet.
I haven’t listened to Cooper’s clarinet solo … yet.
At the same time, I’m working on becoming more aware of what is going well.
This school year, Katie has taken control of her afternoon schedule, plotting homework and studying without prompting. She rarely forgets to complete or turn in an assignment — a huge step in independence and responsibility compared with previous years.
One evening this week, she declared, stood in the kitchen, hands on hips, eyes on the microwave clock and declared, “I need to plan the rest of the night.” She then ticked off every task still undone and an estimate of time needed for each. I may not have modeled for her a household budget (yet), but she’s grasping the concept of matching resources to tasks.
Each day when Cooper arrives home from school (or band practice or track practice), he does two things.
He asks how my day was, and he tells me about his day.
We started this ritual years ago, when I would walk to pick him up at our neighborhood elementary school. I taught him that it was polite to greet someone with, “How are you?” rather than, “Hey, I’m hungry. Where’s my snack?”
I also convinced him at a young age that it was his responsibility to fill me in on the details of the day. I didn’t allow one-word responses or “I don’t know” or noncommittal shrugs.
So now, all these years later, it’s his instinctive habit to ask about others and then to walk me through his day, with a recap of lessons, lunch and teenage dialogue. I may not have a baby book for him (yet), but we communicate every day.
I don’t expect I’ll ever have every task checked off my mom list. New action items wiggle their way on all the time. The key is to add a tiny, powerful “yet” to every line.
 Tyra Damm is a Briefing columnist. Email her at

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