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Are You Raising Your Child With a Growth Mindset or a Fixed One?

One mindset helps kids succeed, the other holds them back

Published on: May 01, 2015

The road to success is not paved just by what you do, but more importantly by how you think.

So you thought it best to focus on what your child does well and help them develop those skills. That can be helpful, but if you want your child to be truly successful in anything it requires having the right mindset. Researcher and author Carol Dweck’s work over the last 10 years has shed light on the importance of mindset. And there are only two, so it makes the choice simple: A growth mindset or a fixed mindset. Her research continues to demonstrate that our greatest potential can only be fully developed by possessing a growth mindset.

Let me share how these two mindsets differ and what we can do to transfer this growth mindset to our children.

Growth mindset vs. fixed mindset

Someone with a growth mindset believes that traits can be developed and improved. Their primary focus is to improve and they embrace and welcome challenges. They believe that effort is the path to mastery and that effort is necessary to grow and master useful skills and talents. These individuals persist in the face of obstacles, see failure as an opportunity to learn and enjoy the process because they are not solely focused on the outcome. They also choose to learn from their criticisms and do not take them personally because they realize that the skill that is criticized can be improved with appropriate feedback and practice.

On the other hand, someone with a fixed mindset believes that traits, talents and abilities are innate, static and cannot be improved. Their primary desire is to “appear” smart or talented and thus they tend to avoid challenges to safe face and maintain their appearance or status. They believe that effort demonstrates one’s lack of innate ability and that effort is for those who are not fortunate enough to possess natural talents, “smarts" or abilities. When facing obstacles these individuals tend to give up easily or place blame on other people or factors as a way of maintaining self-esteem and saving face. They do not respond well to criticism and take it as a personal insult because their belief is that their skill or talent is a defining factor of themselves.

How we respond to our children’s failures, setbacks and challenges will be one of the key factors in their future success

How many of us perpetuate the fixed mindset without even knowing it? I would say most of us do to some extent! But that does not mean that we cannot make a shift and work on developing a stronger growth mindset. Lets take a look at a few simple practices that reinforce a growth mindset.

Three ways to foster a growth mindset in our children

1. Use encouragement.

The message we send in response to our children’s efforts is going to have the highest impact on their likelihood for success. Contrary to popular belief, encouragement is NOT praise. It is an acknowledgement without judgment.

Praise focuses on what is believed to be their natural talents or traits and can sound like, “ You did so well, you are so smart,” “You are a natural,” or, “Wow, your (fill in the blank with an athletic ability) skills are amazing!”

Instead focus on the process or effort: “Wow, it looks like you worked really hard on that project,” “I noticed that you really take on a challenge, even when things are difficult,” or, “Have you noticed the improvement in your writing since you have now completed a years worth of assignments?” Focusing your energy and attention on the effort and/or process will lead to success.

2. Respond to setbacks as opportunities for learning and improvement

I feel like a broken record with the number of times I say, "Mistakes are simply opportunities for learning.” But it is true! How we respond to our children’s failures, setbacks and challenges will be one of the key factors in their future success. These responses might sound like: “It sounds like you are disappointed with your grade on the math test. What do you think you could have done differently to prepare?” Or “I noticed you are really frustrated trying to get all your homework completed on time. Are there any strategies that I can help you with that would allow you to get it done in a more timely manner?” Or simply “What might you do different next time?”

This is a perfect opportunity to coach children to come up with their own solutions or ask them if they would like assistance in coming up with a plan for themselves.

3. Modeling a growth mindset as a parent

Even as adults we are still learning, growing and making mistakes. It is imperative that we share and model our own process with our children. Share with your children challenges you are having or setbacks you have experienced and some of the things you have done to overcome them. Kids love to hear stories about their parents’ childhood. Share stories about similar challenges you faced as a child.

It might sound like: “You know, when I was in second grade and we were doing times tables I really had a hard time memorizing my 6's and 7's. I even failed that test! So this is what I tried [fill in the blank]. And with this new strategy and lots of practice I had the entire times table chart memorized by the end of the year. I could answer any multiplication question in less than 5 seconds and it felt great!”

Or: “I’m just learning how to play tennis as an adult and miss a lot of shots during class. But I am working hard, go to class every week and am asking my coach for tips and can see that I’m getting better every time I practice.”

Having a growth mindset comes easy to some because they grew up with parents or mentors who instilled it, but it is definitely something we can all embrace and practice within our own lives and with our children.

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