Rudey's Room

The Secret to Raising Smart Kids


“Whatever you are, be a good one.”

-Abraham Lincoln


I obsessed over the book Mindset when I read it, dog-earing page after page to spark conversation with my husband and my co-workers. It’s a book rich in spot-on anecdotes and child-rearing logic.

If you haven’t read it and are consistently around children, get after it. It’s a worthwhile, not overly, academic read. For me, Chapter 7 on parenting, teaching, and coaching was a stand out. If for no other reason, buy it for this chapter. I wish I could wave a wand and simply just be what Carol Dweck wrote.

My favorite quote: “If parents want to give their children a gift, the best thing they can do is to teach their children to love challenges, be intrigued by mistakes, enjoy effort, keep on learning,” Carol Dweck in Mindset.


Her words – above and throughout the book – resonate with me. I want to raise strong girls who embrace growth and aren’t scared by challenges or mistakes. I want my girls love learning and to spend their lifetimes in quest of it.

I’m not an expert, but I think a lot of this comes down to mindset. It’s why I’m compelled to share some notes on Mindset to strip to what matters …

Five Ways to Foster a Growth Mindset

Be a Teacher and a Learner:  Let’s create an atmosphere of trust and not judgment because we are all always teaching and learning. I’m a teacher, yes, but there’s so much that I don’t know in life and it’s good to admit that. I’m a learner too. Always both. Let’s ask: What am I teaching? What am I learning? 

Recently, I overheard a teacher’s aide at my school ask one of my French students what an “haricot” was. She said she’d seen it on a menu once, but could not remember what it was. She asked my student how she could find the answer. The student said, “well, it’s a bean,” and the teacher said “great, but, can show me how you know that.” My student opened her dictionary and helped her aide. Teaching and learning is not a hierarchy with the sage on the stage. It’s about back and forth interactions, about connecting and working together.

One of my favorites lines in Mindset came from Mara Collins, who taught at-risk Chicago students. She said, “But you must help me to help you.” This wise woman continued, “If you don’t give anything, don’t expect anything.”

Embrace Effort: I’m gonna quote RuPaul and yes, it’s cheesy. But the words are cool in mindset. My girls were introduced to this song on Christmas Eve when they decided to do a runway show with their cousins. I cheered them on and as RuPaul says in Supermodel, “You better work.”

Yes, there are overnight success sensations, but for most of us, we work hard for it. It’s take self-reflection to design your life and grit to go after it. Take Rudy, Rudy, Rudy, whom I love because of his raw determination and well, we share a name 🙂

Effort is King. I want to set the stage for my girls for when life (school, relationships, jobs, you name it) is not easy street. It’s inevitable that challenges pop up and I want them to stay confident and motivated when the hurtles arise. I want them armed with the tools to steer the course and not give up, never give up on their dreams.

Sentences such as, “Oh, he’s a natural genius,” suggest intelligence is a fixed trait – you only have so much of it. This label sets the child up for meltdownville when his “inherent” skills are not enough.  This “genius” will question his self-worth and likely lose both motivation and confidence. He’ll probably wonder, “well, clearly I’m not a natural genius, so I must suck,” instead of exercising his brain.

A phrase I pulled from the book and use with my girls is, “Not smarter, just more experienced.” As in she’s not just a natural at gymnastics, she’s practiced twice a week since she was five. As Dweck says, “assignments, tasks, activities, skills that were once hard become easier because of their practice and disciple.”

Run from Perfection: Mistakes are an opportunity for learning, they are problems waiting for a solution. Let’s allow for our kids to flub up. Errors are human, so there is no place for perfection in this world. Perfection does not have a good plan of how to improve. It’s a set up to get it right the first time, but life is messier than that. Let’s teach our children that mistakes are not to be judged or shamed, but are an opportunity for growth. But that requires us to give them or help them …

Create Recipes for Success: Kids need suggestions for change and positive teaching that directs growth. Let’s have conversations with them about how we struggled, our daily learnings/mistakes, and create action plans together. and As Dweck says, “We can’t just raise the standards without giving kids the means to reach them. It pushes failure.” Let’s give them the strategies to fill in the gaps. Set the standards sky high, yes, but then it’s our job to teach them how to think, to learn, to grow … to soar.

Check Your Self-Talk: Mirror mirror on the wall … you suck. Kids learn from our modeled behavior and attitudes. How are you talking to yourself? Modeling speaks loud, non?

This chart from Fieldcrest Elementary is powerful example of slight tweaks in how we can and do talk to ourselves.

Research shows that kids start labeling themselves as early as Kindergarten. “I’m smart” and “I’m clumsy” start almost as soon as they ditch the sippy cup and they begin to think, “Oh, so this is who I am?”

We have impact on what Life Sentences our children internalize and how they respond to labels. We can strengthen or weaken the impact of Life Sentences that they, others, and (possibly) we set on them.  We can teach them that these are fluid and that they can grow and change as they want. Instead of “I’m the clumsy girl. That’s who I am. I can’t play soccer. I’ll sit this one out. I’m the clumsy girl.” We can teach them to have grit to get out on the field and go after the ball.

What catch phrases do you use when motivating your kiddos to push past their comfort zones?

Big ones for me are:

  • “It can’t hurt to ask.”
  • “Let’s figure this out.”
  • “How can I help you?”
  • “One step at a time.”

Ciao for now.


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