September 12: Cultivating a Growth Mindset
The beginning of a new school year seems like a good time to talk about how parents can support the development of a growth mindset in their children. Psychologist Carol Dweck first coined the term growth mindset to describe the belief that a person can develop their skills and abilities through hard work and perseverance. In contrast, a fixed mindset is the belief that one’s skills are innate and therefore unchangeable. Dweck emphasizes that all people have a mix of both growth and fixed mindsets. Her research suggests that individuals who can access a growth mindset and tap into the belief that they can develop their abilities and talents will continuously challenge themselves to keep learning. In addition, individuals with a growth mindset embrace the idea that failures are a key component of learning as they provide the opportunity to learn from one’s mistakes.
Here are some practical tips for how parents can support the development of a growth mindset:
Bring attention to hard work and strategies rather than results. Often this involves simply noticing your child’s effort and persistence:
“I see you working really hard to _____ [draw a fish, tie your shoes, multiply fractions, learn to parallel park] and I noticed you’re trying a few different ways to do it.”
“This is challenging and I’m noticing that you’re really sticking with it."
“Completing that project took time and patience. You really worked hard at that.”
Use the word yet to remind your child that learning is a work-in-progress:
“I hear that you really want to ride a two-wheeler and you’re frustrated to still have training wheels. You can’t ride a two-wheeler yet, but keep practicing and I’m confident you’ll learn how.”
“Sounds like you’re upset that you can’t spell all the words on this week’s spelling list. What worked last week when you hadn’t learned all the words yet?”
“I get that this is frustrating. Learning to flip an omelet takes practice, and you’re not there yet. I hope you’ll try again.”
Encourage your child to use self-talk or scripts that promote problem solving:
I’m learning how to do this.
I’m practicing this so I can do it better.
What would my [friend, parent, teacher, cousin] do?
How can I take this big problem and break it into smaller pieces?
I need to figure out the best thing to do even though this is new.
I don’t know how to do this, but I’m going to keep trying and work on learning how.
Model taking on new challenges in your own life, and narrate the strategies you use to manage moments when something goes wrong:
“Learning to bake bread is hard. This loaf didn’t come out quite the way I wanted it to, so I’m going to try again next weekend.”
“Playing the guitar is new for me and I’m still learning. I hope if I practice more I can learn to play my favorite Beatles song.”
“I thought I had fixed the faucet, but now it’s broken again. I need to make a different plan.”
Teach coping statements to help children manage discomfort and develop distress tolerance:
This is tricky and I can handle it.
This is a hard situation and I’m a kid who can do hard things.
I’m upset but I’ll figure it out.
This isn’t what I wanted but I’ll survive.
When I’m stressed, I need to remember that there are a lot of people around to support me.
Express curiosity as a way to bring attention to your child’s growth and learning:
“I noticed you tried a new way to draw a dinosaur. I’m curious to hear more about it. How did you think to draw it that way?”
“I remember 2 weeks ago you didn’t feel ready to try jumping into the deep end. Tell me more about how you learned to do that.”
“Sounds like the diorama you’re building isn’t working out the way you had hoped. What are you going to try next?”
As you think more about growth vs. fixed mindset and how to best support your child, this quote from Carol Dweck provides a succinct summary to hold in mind: "With a growth mindset, kids don't necessarily think that there's no such thing as talent or that everyone is the same, but they believe everyone can develop their abilities through hard work, strategies, and lots of help and mentoring from others."