“I’m just not good a math.”
“I’ll never be able to read as good as she can!”
“I can’t ride my bike without training wheels. It’s too hard!”
What each of these exasperated comments reflect is a fixed mindset. With fixed mindset, people believe they are the way they are and there is little they can do about it. They stick to what the know, and often give up with frustrated. Why put in any effort if you know you are bad at something? They avoid experiences where they may feel like a failure and don’t take criticism well. As a result, it’s hard to learn and even harder to get any better.
As a new school year starts, you might want to encourage a different mindset in your child, and in yourself.
A Growth Mindset.
With a growth mindset, you have a desire to learn and grow because you know the brain is like a muscle and intelligence can be developed. With hard work and perseverance, you can tackle any task. You are inspired, not threatened by the success of others. Those with a growth mindset embrace challenges as a way to strengthen and train their brain. They learn from mistakes and know failure is nothing to fear. This quick video explains it well. A growth mindset is essential for success in not only in school, but in life.
So, how do we, as parents, foster and encourage a growth mindset in our kids?
1. Read & Teach
Explicitly teach your child about growth mindset and the power of his or her thoughts and words. My Fantastic Elastic Brain is a great book to get you started. Check the library for it as well as Beautiful Opps, The Girl Who Never Made Mistakes, and The Most Magnificent Thing. You’ll find a great booklist here divided by ages to read and discuss with your child. Bruno Mars and Janelle Monae even have super cute Sesame Street songs about growth mindset!
2. Praise & Notice
Praise is huge with growth mindset. Praise kids on the their effort, not results. Working hard, not giving up, or for the strategies they used in solving a problem are all praiseworthy. Be sure to praise them for doing something smart, not for being smart.
Instead of praising, you can also just make an observation without judgement:
“You really paid close attention when your coach was talking at soccer practice.”
“You built that block tower really high.”
“You were so gentle with your baby sister.”
3. Build Confidence
Giving kids important chores and asking their opinion on things builds confidence, especially in young children. Maybe they are the table setting helper all week and get to help choose the menu. Maybe they help you list out the jobs that need to be done each day and choose the ones they can do to help the family. While you are at it, ditch “Good Job” and use “Thank you” instead.
“I love when dishwasher is emptied right after breakfast. Thank you!”
“Thank you for getting the mail!”
“Thank you for sharing your drawing with me. Tell me about it!”
4. Empathy & Trust
When your child is discouraged, support him or her with empathy and a chance to share their feelings without judgement from you. Let them know it’s ok to feel that way. You might even share a time you felt the same way. After accepting feelings, avoid giving solutions and suggestions. It shows you trust your child and see him or her as capable. Just ask,
“What do you think you’ll do about that?”
If your child is still discouraged, express confidence that they will figure it out. You love them, you are proud of them, and you are always happy to help. A child who feels heard, understood, and supported is much more likely to not give up because he or she chooses to, rather than a child simply told not to give up.
5. Facing Failure
Remember, little kids think grown-ups are nearly infallible, so pointing out our own mistakes and failures is eye-opening to them. We need teach our children to overcome a fear of failure. Failure is only an opportunity to practice humility and grow stronger.
Tell your child about times you have failed and what you did about it. I share my past failures and my real feelings of embarrassment and wanting to give up. I’ve told my kids how I failed my driver’s test the first time I took it and what I did about it. Kids can’t be what the can’t see, so show them an adult with a growth mindset.
With a growth mindset, “I’m just not good at math!” becomes, “I’ll have to work hard and train my brain, but I like a challenge.”
“I’ll never be able read like her!” becomes, “I wonder what I can learn from her?”
“It’s too hard!” becomes, “I need some more time to work on this.”
Change your words. Change your mindset. It’s really that simple.
“It’s not that I’m so smart, I just stay with the problems longer.”
– Albert Einstein
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