If there is one thing that every child needs to learn, it’s that they can become better in many different areas of life with time and effort.
It sounds simple, but the effects of believing this are profound.
The belief that you’re able to improve yourself with hard work, rather than have fixed talent and ability, is what psychologist Carol Dweck calls the “growth mindset”
What is a growth mindset?
According to Dweck in her book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, there are two basic types of people in this world, those with a fixed mindset and those with a growth mindset.
The category that you fall into can have drastic effects on the course of success you will experience in your life.
“When people are in a fixed mindset they believe their basic qualities, their talents, abilities, intelligence are just fixed traits, they have a certain amount and that’s it. When they’re in this mindset they often become concerned with how much they have. “If I do this will I look smart? Will I feel smart? Will people think I’m talented or not?”
“When people are in a growth mindset, they look at their talent and abilities as things that can be developed through hard work, good strategies, or help and input from others. They’re more willing to jump in, take a challenge, and roll with the punches because they’re not seeing everything as reflecting on their deep permanent ability.”
The growth mindset is one of the most important predictors of success in life.
So the question is: How can you promote the growth mindset in your children?
Here are 7 crucial tips:
1. Don’t praise them for their intelligence or natural talent
Carl Dweck says that one of the “clearest findings” she has seen is that “praising children’s intelligence harms their motivation and it harms their performance.”
Because, according to Carl Dweck, praising talent and intelligence encourages a fixed mindset.
While children “especially love to be praised for their intelligence and talent…the minute they hit a snag, their confidence goes out the window and their motivation hits rock bottom. If success means they’re smart, then failure means they’re dumb. That’s the fixed mindset.”
Dweck says that as soon as children “become able to evaluate themselves..they become afraid of not being smart.
“I have studied thousands of people from preschoolers on, and it’s breathtaking how many reject an opportunity to learn.”
The question is, what should you compliment then?
Dweck says that you should complement effort, choices, and strategy.
This sends the message to the kid that hard work is the way to improve, and it’s not due to a “you have or you don’t” quality.
“Remember that praising children’s intelligence or talent, tempting as it is, sends a fixed-mindset message. It makes their confidence and motivation more fragile. Instead, try to focus on the processes they used— their strategies, effort, or choices. Practice working the process praise into your interactions with your children.”
2. Tie the outcome to the effort
A common misconception about promoting the growth mindset in your children is to only compliment them for their effort, and not the outcome.
But Dweck says that you shouldn’t ignore the outcome. In fact, it’s important to celebrate success with your children, as long as you tie it to the strategies and use of resources.
“It’s not “ignore the outcome,” it’s “tie it to the outcome.” Sometimes parents will say, “I’m so tempted to be happy when my child succeeds or masters something difficult but I know I shouldn’t,” and of course you should. Just tie it to the process, that what the child is supposed to learn is that a good process results in progress.”
3. Teach them to respond positively to failure
Parents are often scared to acknowledge the mistakes of their children because it might demotivate them. But Dweck says that this is wrong.
Failure is actually an important time to teach them to learn from it and keep going.
According to Dweck:
“What we’re finding is that it’s the parents who really respond positively to the child’s mistakes that show how they’re an opportunity for learning. Then the child sees that these setbacks are part of the learning process, and you can capitalize on them. They’re not something that should engender anxiety or make you feel inept.”
Dweck says that it’s imperative that you teach your children to love challenges and be intrigued by mistakes.
“If parents want to give their children a gift, the best thing they can do is to teach their children to love challenges, be intrigued by mistakes, enjoy effort, and keep on learning. That way, their children don’t have to be slaves of praise. They will have a lifelong way to build and repair their own confidence.”
4. Don’t just say “try hard”. Help them set goals
Yes, it’s important to praise effort but that’s not enough.
According to Dweck, blindly praising effort is more like nagging than instruction, and that exhorting kids to work hard is not a growth mindset.
Instead, it’s critical to teach them about strategies and goals.
“In general, goals should be challenging but doable and there should be steps along the way so that the child can see that what they’re doing is bringing progress. It’s very rewarding to see yourself progressing toward the goal. Then when the child reaches the goal, the parent can review what it was that the child did, that whole process that led to the learning.”
5. Teach them that the growth mindset applies in all areas of life
It’s common for kids to have a growth mindset in one area of life such as sports, but not when it comes to math.
But Dweck says children need to learn they can get better in all areas of life:
“One thing to keep in mind is that if a coach teaches a growth mindset with respect to athletics it may not go anywhere else other than athletics. These mindsets can stay very anchored to a particular situation.
“We see many athletes who are tremendously persevering and risk-taking and learning-oriented in athletics but not in their academic work and vice versa. If we want our growth mindset teaching to have a maximum effect then we should tie it to other things.”
6. Talk about your own experiences of failing and learning
Children learn from their parents, so it’s imperative that you talk about times where you’ve failed and through effort and strategy, you’ve managed to pick yourself up and succeed.
According to Dweck, you should make a “growth mindset” part of the dinner table conversation:
“We should ask ourselves every day “What do I want to learn today?” and “What do I want to teach today?”, or “What do I want to facilitate in others?” That just keeps us in a learning mode. We’re all so busy, we have so many responsibilities and we have to keep learning the idea of learning in the front of our minds. Then, even at the dinner table, parents can talk about things they struggled with, mistakes they made and learned from and that could become part of the dinner conversation.”
7. Every word or action is an opportunity to teach them about the growth mindset
You can have either a fixed mindset or a growth mindset in your life, and every moment is an opportunity to teach the growth mindset to your children.
You don’t have to judge them and stereotype their traits in a specific box. Instead, you tell them that they have the ability to grow and change no matter what it is.
As Carol Dweck says, every moment is an opportunity to send a message:
“In fact, every word and action can send a message. It tells children—or students, or athletes—how to think about themselves. It can be a fixed-mindset message that says: You have permanent traits and I’m judging them. Or it can be a growth-mindset message that says: You are a developing person and I am interested in your development.”
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