A trait I admire greatly in others, strive to develop further myself and would love to pass on to our daughters; is growth and resilience. The way we perceive change and challenges is so powerful and has a great effect on how we work through life’s curve balls. The ability to adequately deal with change, not be afraid of putting in the effort and be excited about learning from both successes and failures, is something that can only bring value to our children and those around us.
Various studies, endless accounts from educators and a wealth of research talks about two different mindsets. A ‘fixed mindset’ (when people conclude that their basic characteristics, intelligence and talents are set and can’t be changed) and a ‘growth mindset’ (which encourages the ongoing development of our basic traits through dedication and hard work). A fixed mindset can be very limiting as it often gives up when things gets hard, runs away from a challenge or sees mistakes as failures. According to Kazakoff & Mitchell, “Students who possess a fixed mindset are often preoccupied with the notion of high performance and will seek opportunities where they can prove their skills while avoiding situations where their weaknesses might be revealed.”
A growth mindset, on the other hand, focuses on learning from mistakes, work through problems and growing their intelligence/talent/skills rather than assuming they ‘can’ or ‘can’t do it based on their current abilities.
Having a growth mindset is a fundamental key to long life success and below are some helpful tips on how we can model it to our children and develop it further within ourselves.
- Lead by example
If you want to encourage a growth mindset for those around you, it’s important to lead by example. Any developmental psychologist will tell you that children learn much of their behaviour and attitudes from watching how we react to certain situations. This can be done by not only showing them, but by explaining to them how the growth mindset works and modelling it through thinking aloud. The thinking aloud strategy is often used by teachers and basically tells us to use phrases like “this is a tough one, I better keep practicing” rather than “this is really hard, I’m not good at it”. By openly taking on challenges with enthusiasm, persisting when we fail and showing an interest in learning: our growth mindset will continue to focus on the positives of a situation and finding ways through it instead of giving up or attributing our lack of skills as a failure… which in turn can rub off on our offspring as they attack problems the same way.
- Open doors with the word ‘yet’
Just adding words like ‘yet’ and ‘not yet’ to a discouraging sentence like “I can’t do it”, greatly changes its meaning and effect. It opens the door for growth and the opportunity that, although they haven’t mastered it now, they could in the future. It’s just a matter of time and effort. “I can’t tie my shoelaces!” …. yet, but if you keep practicing, you will. “I’m horrible at math!” … you haven’t mastered it yet… but with practice and learning you can’.
- Praise efforts not intelligence
While there is nothing wrong in praising someone for being smart or talented, doing so exclusively could lead to a fixed mindset where they think their success is based purely on their innate skills. Research suggests that praising children’s efforts/strategies creates eagerness for new challenges and a motivation to improve their performance. Rather than telling them “you did great on this test, you’re so smart” a more strategy-focused praise like “You did so great, all that studying really paid off” places emphasis on the work they put into it. If you praise their efforts, good or bad, they come to understand that what is important is effort. It is important to note though that, much like praising intelligence, explicitly praising effort might not be the way to go either. For example, if you tell your child to “just keep trying” when their hard work doesn’t pay off, they may feel incompetent. Instead, give feedback that centres around the benefits of different learning strategies. Saying things like “Don’t worry if you don’t understand something right away. What’s the next step you could take?” or “You’re showing great skills here, practicing will really strengthen it”.
- View mistakes as speed bumps and lessons
Children sometimes learn the most when they fail, so it is important for them to know that mistakes are a big part of the learning process. Speak openly about mistakes you have made and the lessons you have learnt from them. What steps have you taken since then to try and avoid the same issues from coming up again, or what tools have you put in place to manage a situation different/better next time? Once they have worked their way through a difficult problem, with ups and downs along the way, they’ll understand the gratification of solving such a problem and won’t have the temptation to give up as quickly next time.
- Failure is allowed
As parents, sometimes we don’t want to come off too authoritarian or forceful, as we sometimes let our children quit too soon, rather than encouraging them to try again and possibly grow. We’re good at empowering them in making choices, but why not empower them in accepting failure and learning from mistakes as well? No parent enjoys watching their child fail, but if we continue to carry them each time they do, protect them from the negativity and avoid failure all together, they will soon see a pattern and start to fear failure rather than challenge and learn from it. As parents, our job is not to solve the problems for them, but work it out together and teach them along the way. Of course this should be taken within context… letting a toddler try and wash their own dish is one thing, but you won’t see me encouraging my 4-year-old to start chopping her own vegetables using my chef’s knife…… yet!! (see what I did there? 😉 We can watch our child fail and learn, but we don’t need to go out of our way and ‘set them up’ to fail either. We might not stop them from falling but we can always be there to guide them and help them get back up. Easier said than done, but you’re essentially doing them a favour by letting them accept that failure can be scary, but that it is not the end of the world.
- Optimism does not mean gullibility
Being optimistic about growing and developing our intelligence and skills, does not mean we assume we can become the next theoretical physicist or concert pianist by simply practicing and putting in the effort (although never say never, right?). Someone with a growth mindset will push themselves further and take on challenges, but will also learn that everyone does have certain limitations that may hinder some goals from being reached. They can recognize the skills they want to develop further and set themselves challenging, but realistic, goals.
7. Encourage learning and asking questions
The infamous ‘but, mom, why?’ phase sometimes has me grinding my teeth while I hold back from saying ‘because I said so!’ It’s a common stage to go through, and albeit tiring at times, it’s a great indicator that your child is curious and wants to learn. Children can develop a growth mindset simply from learning about why things happen and how it can help them in the future. This can even be applied directly to the concept of ‘growth mindset’ as we teach our children how their brain works. Once they understand that their brain literally grows connections as we learn new skills and concepts, they can get excited about the process and be less worried about the end result. They’ll better understand that their intelligence and skills are not always set and can improve or decrease depending on the effort we put in them.