Five ways to encourage a growth mindset in kids
Growth mindset. Have you heard of it? If you’re a teacher, I’m betting your answer is yes. If you’re married to a teacher, like I am, your answer is probably also yes. The concept of growth mindset, coined by Carol Dweck in 2006, is big in the education sector. For everyone else though, it might be a bit of a new concept, so let’s take a look at what exactly growth mindset is and how it can help your child.
What is growth mindset?
Put simply, growth mindset is the belief that we can learn and improve our skills and abilities over time. That we become smarter through hard work and practise and by applying effective strategies. This is in contrast to the belief that we are simply born with innate, or fixed skills, talents (and intelligence) and there is nothing we can do to improve or change this.
Why is it important for my child to have a growth mindset?
Research has shown that children with a fixed mindset tend to give up when faced with a hard task, avoid challenges and put in less effort when something is difficult. If a child has the belief, “I’m no good at maths”, then they may give up when they find a task difficult because they believe they can do no better, and are unable to improve.
A child with the belief, “I am excellent at maths”, may also avoid a challenging maths task, for fear that they will look unintelligent and disprove their belief about themselves. They may worry that they always need to “look smart” and therefore avoid any tasks that threaten this view they have of themselves.
On the other hand, a child who believes they can get batter at maths if they practise and employ better strategies, will continue to work hard and try different approaches until they get better or solve the problem.
How does having a growth mindset affect my child’s emotional health?
Research into growth mindset certainly shows that it has a positive impact on learning in the classroom. But what about mental health? Studies into growth mindset and mental health show a relationship between the two. It is possible that children with a fixed mindset are more likely to develop mental health problems. It also might be a case of mental health problems themselves causing or contributing to a more fixed mindset in children.
Research also shows that having a growth mindset can help improve self esteem and resilience in children.Working hard at something and improving your skills or mastering a task, helps children feel capable and competent. This is vital for healthy self esteem.
Growth mindset also encourages children to embrace failure and mistakes as opportunities to learn. This willingness to take risks and grow from setbacks and failures, helps children become more resilient.
So how do we encourage our kids to have a growth mindset? Here are 5 tips to get you started:
1. Teach kids about the brain
The brain is an unbelievably amazing organ. Kids love knowing more about how it works. And teaching them about it can help them develop a growth mindset. When we learn something new, the neurons inside our brain fire in a particular way, creating patterns that form connections or ‘pathways’ between different areas. When we repeat something over and over, we create more and more connections, the pathway becomes stronger and our brain grows every time we practise.
It can be helpful for kids to think of the brain like a muscle, that grows and becomes stronger every time they use it! See? Learning can be fun!
2. The Power of Yet
Does your child say things like, “I can’t do this,” “I don’t understand this”, or “I’m not good at this”? Try adding one tiny word to the end of that sentence for them: Yet.
“I can’t do this, yet.”
“I don’t understand this, yet.”
“I’m not good at this, yet.”
This simple shift in thinking helps your child feel more positive and hopeful. It helps them shift the focus onto what needs to happen next in order to reach their goal. Do they need to keep practising? Do they need to try a new strategy? Do they need to ask for help? Do they need more time?
Setting goals can be a powerful way to encourage growth mindset. Help your child be specific and set out the specific steps they need to take. This helps them see their learning journey in a more tangible and realistic way, and to recognise how they have progressed with effort and strategy.
3. Use ‘process praise’
I’ve spoken before about the problems praise can cause to self esteem. Praise like, “You’re so good at maths”, or “You’re so smart”, encourages a fixed mindset. It implies that a child’s results are due to an innate skill, rather than his hard work and effort. Instead, try something called ‘process praise’. Focus on the child’s effort. The strategy he used, his hard work, his perseverance, his organisational skills, his dedication. The process that lead to the result, rather than the result itself.
Using this kind of praise, that focuses on the steps involved to achieve a goal, leads to increased feelings of confidence and competence. This is because it helps a child understand that it was their own actions (that they have control over) that contributed to their success, not innate skills or talents (which they have no control over). It helps them feel good about themselves, and so they’re more likely to try hard and challenge themselves again next time, too.
4. Celebrate mistakes
Mistakes are how we learn. Look at the baby learning to walk. He falls over again and again before he masters the skill of walking. This doesn’t discourage him though. It helps him learn what works, and what doesn’t. It’s how he discovers what he needs to do differently next time in order to reach his goal.
Mistakes prove that we are trying. Failure proves that we are pushing ourselves, learning new things, and discovering new strategies. Encourage your child to embrace failures and mistakes as opportunities for growth and learning. If your child makes a mistake, or something doesn’t go quite the way they were expecting, ask them what they can do differently next time. Encourage them to try a new strategy, look at the problem a different way. Help them learn from it.
5. Model growth mindset
You know the drill guys. Behave the way you want your child to behave. They’re watching and learning from you. So model a growth mindset. Show them how it’s done.
Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Persist even when tasks are challenging. Try new things. Embrace challenges and struggles as opportunities for learning and growth.
And if you’d like some more information and growth mindset activities for your child, check out the Big Life Journal for Kids or the Big Life Journal for Teens. These are guided journals filled with activities, journal prompts, colourful illustrations, motivational quotes and more. A great way to introduce growth mindset to your child and boost their self esteem and resilience while you’re there too!
Sarah is a psychologist, mama of 4 and the creator of Mindful Little Minds. She has over 10 years of experience working with children, adolescents and families experiencing mental health problems and has a special interest in anxiety disorders in children. In her spare time she enjoys hugging her kids, drinking coffee, and telling anyone who’ll listen how tired she is.