Growing a "growth mindset" (For Parents)
Updated: Aug 24
Growth mindset is an interesting piece of research that can really inform our parenting and teaching with children.
Growth mindset is essentially when someone believes their abilities like reading, soccer, math, social skills, or emotional control can be developed through dedication and hard work. While talent or brain power might be important - it is secondary to perseverance. This view helps develop resilience, grit, a love for learning, and self-confidence through mastery.
I heard once that the point of assignments is to help us gain the perseverance to do harder assignments. It is to grow our skills. Writing a sentence may seem like the most overwhelming thing in the world in the grade it is assigned, but by writing it then the child is able to build the skills later to write the paragraph. Then they find themselves writing a one-page report, and by doing that they are able to write two pages, and on and on.
By removing the child's struggle we are not helping. We are holding them back from learning that skill.
On the other hand, when children have a fixed mindset they stop trying too easily which can stunt their growth. This often further hurts their self-esteem. It's an assault on their identity. They are SUPPOSED TO ALWAYS be GREAT at ______. This is THEIR THING! How could they fail? Instead of seeing it as a way to challenge themselves or get better it shows how weak they are and how they are not enough. That is shame and shame is not healthy, but that is a different blog post. ;)
For more information watch this video on YouTube:
By knowing this "thinking superpower" as parents, grandparents, or teachers we can support our children by modeling it in our actions, talking about it, pointing it out in others, and sharing this through children's stories. We can improve our parenting gut with knowledge and be confident enough to avoid bribing and coaxing. Remember parenting is a skill too, and if we practice we can get better.
One fixed mindset trap is praising children with over-generalities like 'you are so smart' or 'you are great'. Those praises while well-meaning - and definitely something I struggle to break in my own parenting - create a specific identity in the child that is hard to live up to. Kids know when they don't measure up to their peers. Eventually, they won't be the smartest kid in the room or have the highest grade. They will lose the game or lose their cool. A fixed mindset is a recipe for underachieving, procrastination, anxiety, and in some perfectionism. It keeps us from real growth and self-awareness. It makes us stay in what we know we are good at which is extremely limiting.
Another way to praise is to be very specific and to praise effort like:
"I noticed how hard you were working out there"
"You didn't give up even though that problem was complicated,"
"That was a really creative way to solve that problem"
"I can see how much you have grown at sharing with your friends,"
"You did so much better on your spelling test after you practiced"
"You keep getting better,"
"You put yourself out there even when you were scared"
I'm a big fan of learning by reading books or watching TED talks. Resources are developed with a target age in mind, so not every book or video may fit your kid. That is okay. Keep your eyes open. Now that you know it is important you might see it in more places.
A few of my favorites for kids are:
Growth mindset in older kids may look like picking up a new hobby with your tween or older kid and purposely showing your mental work by saying your thoughts out loud. This could look like: "I am SO disappointed those squash borer moths destroyed our summer squash plants, but I am glad I figured out what I can do next time." Purposefully picking up a new hobby like rock climbing or running that requires troubleshooting is a great way to model a growth mindset and break down the fixed mindset. Frame it like a puzzle.