Why children need a “growth mindset” & how to achieve it

Have you ever noticed how some people crumble in the face of setbacks, while others learn and thrive from them?

These differences in outcomes are likely to stem from whether someone has a fixed mindset or a growth mindset.

What does “growth mindset” mean?

A fixed mindset assumes that intelligence and abilities are innate and unchangeable. For example. you’re either “intelligent” or “unintelligent”.

On the other hand, having a growth mindset means believing that success has less to do with raw intelligence and more to do with effort, tenacity and self-belief.

Growth mindset - blackboard

What does the research show?

Researchers Carol Dweck and Claudia Mueller conducted a series of studies on 9 to 12 year old students. These students were asked to complete a problem-solving task and then told that they got 80% of the questions right.

Students were either praised for:

1) Their natural intelligence (fixed mindset)

OR

2) Their effort (growth mindset).

Results found that compared to those praised for their natural ability, students who were praised for their effort (growth mindset) were more likely to:

  • Enjoy the task more.
  • Persist on the tasks.
  • Perform better on future tasks.
  • Be honest about how many questions they got correct in the task (whereas the “fixed mindset” groups tended to inflate their performance).
  • Ask for feedback on how they could do better next time (compared to the “fixed mindset” groups, who were more interested in how their performance stacked up against that of their peers).

Growth mindset - globe

What are the benefits of having a growth mindset?

Throughout the lifespan, our brains have the ability to re-shape and form new connections. Neural growth can be nurtured through actions such as practice, strategic learning, good nutrition and healthy sleep habits.

This understanding that the brain works like a muscle that can only grow through perseverance bestows a sense of control over one’s achievements. People with a growth mindset are more likely to value learning over performance, embrace challenges, persist in the face of setbacks and use mistakes as opportunities for growth.

Having a growth mindset is also beneficial for personal and professional relationships. People who possess a growth mindset are more likely to have a constructive and compassionate approach to the setbacks of others.

As Dr Carol Dweck, developer of the growth mindset concept, says:

“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, and keep on learning. That way, their children don’t have to be slaves of praise. They will have a lifelong way to build and repair their own confidence.” 

Growth mindset - book

How can I nurture a growth mindset in my children?

Instilling a growth mindset for your children is simple if you apply the following key principles:

  1. Give honest but kind feedback.
  2. Avoid praising their innate qualities, e.g. “you’re so clever” or “you’re so gifted”, as these do not encourage learning and growth.
  3. Instead, praise the process, i.e. effort, strategy and action.
  4. Help your children understand that the brain can stretch and grow through their actions. Teach them that experiencing struggle with a task in fact creates and strengthens connections between their neurons.
  5. Teach them that FAIL does not mean failure; rather, it represents a “First Attempt In Learning”.
  6. Encourage the idea that the goal of learning  is not to get the correct answer, but to enjoy the process and be motivated to learn more.

Growth mindset - happy girl

Throughout all this, don’t forget that you as a parent may also be on a growth mindset journey.

Many of us were educated during an era when there was a stronger “fixed mindset” approach than there is today (e.g., letter grades, pass/fail), so we get that it may be difficult to shake off that way of thinking.

To avoid compromising your efforts to promote your children’s growth mindsets, be aware of your own mindset and how that affects the ways you speak and behave around them. Children absorb lessons from us, even when we’re not consciously teaching them. For example, there’s little benefit in doing the right thing by your children’s mindsets if you then turn around and say to your spouse “Can you sort out our taxes, darling? You know I’m bad with numbers” or you tell your friend on the phone “Wow, Barry Manilow is a natural-born singer”*

*Assuming that Barry Manilow fans have friends.

 

The following sources were used in the formation of this blog:

Mindset Works: https://www.mindsetworks.com/Science/

The Guardian: https://www.theguardian.com/teacher-network/2018/jan/04/research-every-teacher-should-know-growth-mindset

Brain Pickings: https://www.brainpickings.org/2014/01/29/carol-dweck-mindset/