Nurturing a growth mindset in children instead of a fixed mindset is crucial to embracing the many challenges they’ll encounter in life as they grow. Professor Carol Dweck developed the growth mindset concept as to why people succeed (or don’t) and how to foster success. In her book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, she explains the core difference between a growth mindset and a fixed one. A fixed mindset views character, intelligence, and creative ability as characteristics we are born with and can’t change in any significant way. A growth mindset relishes challenges and sees failure not as the endpoint limited by what they are born with but rather as a learning experience to continue to improve.
As a parent, you have an essential part to play. Some children are naturally more inclined to a growth mindset than others. Some start out with a growth mindset but then struggle to continue to develop it. In whichever area your child has adopted a fixed mindset, even if they doubt their intelligence level, you can help them adjust their mindset to a growth one. According to research led by Dr. Lisa S. Blackwell, a Research Scientist in the Department of Psychology at Columbia University, when students are explicitly taught to have a growth mindset, they experience increased test scores, motivation levels, and school enjoyment.
Signs of Growth Mindset in Children
Knowing the signs would help you recognize when your child is displaying the characteristics of a growth mindset. Below are some signs of a growth mindset.
- They don’t quickly throw their hands in the air and give up. Instead, they keep working towards their goal in the belief that the right amount of effort would bring them success.
- After failing at a task, they still manage not to let it affect their confidence, even though they’re disappointed. Put simply, they have a healthy attitude towards failure and can bounce back.
- They don’t see failure as a definition of their intelligence. When they fail at something, they see it as a sign that they have to either do things differently or try harder.
- They don’t shy away from challenges. If anything, they welcome it. They see every challenge as an opportunity to learn something new.
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Signs of a Fixed Mindset in Children
Knowing the signs of a fixed mindset would help you recognize when your child needs help. Below are some signs of a fixed mindset.
- When they encounter difficulties, they easily back down. They see difficulties as the limit of their abilities.
- They don’t like trying new things. Once they figure out a particular task, they stick to that, afraid of embracing the uncertainty of trying something new.
- They like tasks they can easily accomplish because it’s a confirmation of their current abilities.
- They try so hard to hide their struggles and mistakes because they believe it reflects their measure of intelligence.
- Whenever they fail at something, they make conclusive generalizations about their intelligence or capabilities. That’s when you hear phrases like “I’ll never get this right” or “I totally suck at this.” Here we look more at mental health in children.
Ways to Teach Children a Growth Mindset
Teaching a growth mindset to your child requires deliberate, consistent steps. Consistency is crucial because even adults hear and read things that might benefit them but believe what they will anyway. It will require work to cultivate a growth mindset in your child. Below are a few tips that might help.
- Utilize the power of “Not yet.” As previously stated, a child with a fixed mindset will see failure as a definitive phenomenon. But you can use the power of “Not yet” to change their perspective. When your child says, “I can’t do this,” you can help by adding “Not yet” or “Yet” in front of that statement. It’s a way of telling them that it’s a process. Dweck describes this well in her 2014 TED talk. “I heard about a high school in Chicago where students had to pass a certain number of courses to graduate, and if they didn’t pass a course, they got the grade ‘Not Yet,'” she says. “And I thought that was fantastic because if you get a failing grade, you think, I’m nothing, I’m nowhere. But if you get the grade “Not Yet,” you understand that you’re on a learning curve. It gives you a path into the future.”
- Praise their work ethic instead of intelligence. When your child comes to depend on vague praises like “You’re so smart” or “You’re so intelligent,” they get hung up on the output of their intelligence or smartness. Whenever results fall flat, they take it to be a measure of their intelligence. In their mind, intelligence is something fixed you have to keep proving every day. To help your child cultivate a growth mindset, praise their focus, strategy, effort, improvement, and perseverance.
- Teach them how the brain works. One of the factors that lead to a fixed mindset is the belief that physiologically each human being has been dealt a particular hand that can’t be changed. This belief creates an either/or binary. A person is either intelligent, or they are not. But that’s simply not the case. “In one study, we taught (students) that every time they push out of their comfort zone to learn something new and difficult, the neurons in their brain can form new, stronger connections, and over time they can get smarter,” says Dweck.
- Open up about your struggles. Opening up about your struggles from time to time is another way to foster your child’s growth mindset. This would help them understand that it’s okay to struggle in the process, make mistakes and learn something. Just telling your child that it’s okay to struggle and make mistakes without modeling might not drive the point home. However, you should be careful what you choose to open up on. It needs to be relevant and age-appropriate so you don’t burden your child.
Growth Mindset Activities for Children
The following activities can help your child cultivate a growth mindset.
- Doing things that allow growth. It should come as no surprise that the best thing that your child can do is try things. This means that they will fail, overcome and see that improvement takes time. This can be found in sports or computer games or even activities like scouts. As with any skill repetition improves the ability. They don’t have to be good at them to grow.
- Growth mindset maze. This involves having several statements that show a growth or a fixed mindset. Then have your child point out statements that show either a growth or fixed mindset. It’s fun, and there are plenty available on the internet.
- The crumple exercise. This is a simple exercise where you have your child write down the mistakes they made that day. Then let them crumple the paper and throw it against the wall mirroring something close to the same feeling they get when they make a mistake. Let some time pass, a minute or thereabouts, before they pick up the paper and look at the mistake again. Encourage the child to accept that everyone makes mistakes. When you’ve done this for a while, have the child tell you what they’ll do differently next time. Then let them throw away the paper finally.
- Visual display of growth mindset. This involves having visuals at home that display several growth mindset statements. It could be a colorful poster. When your child makes a fixed mindset statement, point to the poster and ask them to read an affirming statement from there.
Final Thoughts on Nurturing a Growth Mindset in Children
Ultimate, at the very heart of the growth mindset, is the reconditioning of your child’s attitude towards failure and mistakes. Once your child understands that failure and making mistakes are all part of the process, he or she begins to see them as stepping stones. You can even celebrate mistakes to reinforce this point to your child. Get excited when they make mistakes, making sure that they know it’s an opportunity to learn. As in many things in positive parenting, it comes down to modeling behaviors and talking and reflecting on experiences.