Five Easy Ways to Foster Growth Mindset in Your Child

I got a concerned call from my son’s teacher at the beginning of this school year. She told me that earlier in the day, she handed back the graded math quizzes that the class had taken and then watched as my son took his quiz, looked at it, then proceeded to tear it up and throw it in the trash. When she asked him why he had done that, he explained that he was upset and disappointed about the grade. He had wanted and expected to get a “4” (the highest possible grade). His grade? A 3.5. We needed to have a talk.

My son has always done well in math. Where there are other subjects that he may need to work a bit harder in to master, math has always been his strong suit. Understanding that this was a “natural ability,” as a parent, I may have unintentionally gotten into the habit of expecting him to do well in math all the time and praising him for all of the 4’s that had come before. What I didn’t know was that I could’ve been setting him up for a fixed mindset.

What’s a fixed mindset? The idea of a fixed mindset came about from the research of famed Stanford University psychology professor, Carol Dweck. Through her research, Dweck developed the concepts of the fixed mindset and the growth mindset. To explain them simply, a fixed mindset is the belief that one is born with certain talents. These abilities and non-abilities are believed to be set and cannot be improved upon. A growth mindset assumes quite the opposite—that one’s abilities and intelligences are fluid and can be improved upon and affected. In her book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, Dweck shows that having a growth mindset can not only lead people to become more successful in work and in life, but also, happier. So how do we foster a growth mindset in our kids? Here are five easy ways:

Praise the Process.
We, as parents, are so used to praising our children and giving other “rewards” for a job well done and most of the time, that “job well done” is based on an outcome (a good grade, report card, an award, etc.). But in order to really nurture that growth mindset, parents should remain focused on the process. What is process? Process is the hard work, effort, and persistence given to a task. So instead of saying “You’re so smart!,” try saying something like, “I can see you worked so hard on that!” Focusing on the effort that was put into a task encourages children to see the value in their efforts and goes much farther in terms of motivating a child to keep putting in the work.

Talk about the Power of “Not Yet
It takes time and practice to master a new challenge (no one picks up a violin for the first time and plays a concerto!). Children and adults can sometimes become frustrated when learning something new, especially when they can’t get it “right” the first time. When something doesn’t come naturally, it’s easy to give up and tell yourself, “I just can’t do this!” When faced with a challenge, remind your child that not being able to do something right now just means “not yet.” You can use language like, “You can’t do it yet, but if you practice and learn, you will!”

Rethink Failure and Mistakes.
Mistakes and failures are inevitable for everyone. What’s important is how we handle them. In a growth mindset, failure gives us the opportunity to learn, grow and do better. Talk to your children about accepting their mistakes and failures as learning opportunities. One of the best ways we can help children understand how to handle failure is to model it for them. The next time you have trouble accomplishing a task, talk to your child about it. Show them how you struggled with it and what you did or what you are doing to overcome the failure or mistake. When they encounter their own failures, remind them that mistakes can help them improve. Use phrases like, “You can learn from your mistakes. Let’s see what other strategies you can try.”

Explain the Brain.
The key to a growth mindset is having an understanding that the brain can change, grow and develop. Explain to your children that the neurons in their brain are literally growing and changing all the time and it’s possible to affect that growth! How do we affect growth? Growth can only happen through change, challenge and stimulation. When things are too easy, nothing changes, nothing grows. In fact, the brain is very much like a muscle. In order to build it and get it stronger, it needs to keep being challenged.

Recognize Your Own Mindset.
Finally, remember that your child’s number one role model is YOU. Your child is constantly watching your actions and reactions, learning how to navigate life and life’s challenges. If you are constantly shying away from activities that could be challenging or if you say things like, “I’m such an idiot!,” if you happen to get something wrong, stop yourself. Be mindful of how you process challenges and failures. Choose words and actions that will bolster a growth mindset not only for your child, but for yourself as well.
For more ideas and resources on how to foster a growth mindset in your child, visit www.mindsetworks.com.