That all changed for the early childhood educator during the pandemic, when she decided that all parents and teachers needed to understand the benefits of instilling a growth mindset in children. Released in September 2020, her children’s book, “The Learning Steps,” highlights the power of positivity.
“I want them to take the message that through this book, they are able to teach their child that they are good enough— they are enough—and for them to be able to develop that self-esteem as they grow,” the mother of two says.
She first learned about the growth mindset several years ago when researching ways to help her son, Azan, 15, develop a more positive attitude.
“You want your child to have the greatest self-esteem, and sometimes as they’re growing up they’re hard on themselves,” she says. “When I used to hear my child say, ‘I’m not good enough’ or ‘I’m not good at this,’ as a parent, it was hard to hear because I see so much potential.”
Unlike those who believe traits like talent and intelligence are fixed, individuals with a growth mindset believe they can improve their skills with time and effort.
Shaleena began practicing the concept with her family on an everyday basis, using positive affirmations and being more mindful about language choices. The Newbury Park resident knew she wanted to share what she had learned with others and incorporated the philosophy into her own career.
“The more I learned about it, the more I thought how important it is for every educator and every parent to instill that in their own families and themselves,” says Shaleena, now a director at Bright Horizons, a national child care provider.
Then last year she found enough free time to make her dream of authorship a reality. She spent the first few months of the pandemic writing the book, and her husband, Salman, helped her illustrate it.
Growing up in Pakistan, Shaleena’s most special memory was going to the book fair with her father and picking out five fantasies. She will never forget the positive impact the books she read as a child had on her, and she hopes her own book makes others just as happy.
Through six stories of different young animals that learn lessons about growth, Shaleena hopes to help children gain self-confidence and a lifelong love of learning. The 25-page book’s message is one that she believes is especially important during the pandemic.
Shaleena entered the field of early childhood education over two decades ago because she wanted to be a better parent for her daughter, Abeera, who is now 25. It’s a fascinating field of study, she says, and it’s become her passion.
“I have never moved away from this field because there’s so much to learn,” Shaleena says.
To further advocate for children’s mental health, Shaleena recently launched a business called Childhood Matters, which provides parents with resources for grieving children.
Life coach Hanny Newlander met Shaleena about 10 years ago, and over the past decade, has seen Shaleena’s passion for early childhood education evolve, which is why she believes Shaleena has consistently embodied the growth mindset.
“Seeing Shaleena transition to different roles professionally has been inspirational to me,” Hanny says. “It’s easy to think that you are stuck in one certain role, and Shaleena is one of the people who has always been very true to herself—always very kind and a wonderful person—but has reinvented herself in certain ways.”
Athough Hanny’s children are older than the book’s target audience of infant to 6, she enjoyed expanding her knowledge by reading “The Learning Steps.” Its lessons, she says, last a lifetime.
In one story, a whale named Kona gets lost while exploring, but her parents help her understand that “mistakes are part of growing.”
“I wish that she’d written this years ago,” Hanny says.
Hanny—who found the concept of the growth mindset especially helpful when teaching her son how to swim—says she appreciates that unlike most books intended for young children, not all of Shaleena’s stories have traditionally happy endings.
“I love having that because so many of the stories we tell our very young children resolve so easily, and sometimes you don’t achieve success within a few tries,” she says.
Because it frames mistakes as opportunities to be celebrated and encourages viewing life as filled with endless possibilities, Hanny recommends the book to both children and the adults in their lives.
“From personal experience, life is much more enjoyable with a growth mindset,” says Hanny. “It’s a much more exciting way to look at the world.”
Shaleena, Hanny says, has positively affected her life and the lives of those who’ve read the book.
“She understands children on a really intuitive level and has a desire to support young families. I think that really is her driving force.”