One of the best things parents and teachers can do for kids is to help them develop a growth mindset. As I explained in an earlier post, a growth mindset is the belief that we can develop our abilities, including intelligence. In contrast, a fixed mindset is the belief that abilities are carved in stone and can’t be changed.
Children’s mindsets have important implications for their motivation and performance in school. Children with a growth mindset believe that intelligence is malleable and can be increased with effort and good learning strategies. As a result, they’re motivated to work hard and persist when things get challenging. They are not afraid of failure because they view it as an opportunity to learn, a necessary step toward success.
It’s a different story for children with a fixed mindset. These children believe that intelligence is fixed (i.e., we’re either born smart or we’re not). They believe that learning should be easy, and effort unnecessary, for those who are naturally smart. When fixed mindset children struggle to master something or experience failure, they assume they’re not smart and quickly give up.
Studies have shown that children with a growth mindset do better in school than those with a fixed mindset. For example, Lisa Blackwell and her colleagues found that 7th graders who believed that intelligence is malleable earned better grades in mathematics throughout junior high school than students who believed that intelligence is fixed. They also found that students who went through an intervention teaching malleable intelligence earned better grades than those in a control group. Many other studies demonstrate that mindsets can be changed, and a growth mindset is key to academic success.
Parents and teachers can have a huge impact on children’s mindset. Here are three proven ways to foster a growth mindset in your children:
1. Use process praise.
When children succeed, you may be tempted to praise their intelligence or talent (“You’re so smart” or “You’re such a good gymnast”), but this type of praise leads to a fixed mindset. It sends the message that performance is due to ability (or lack of ability). Instead, you should praise the process that children engaged in to achieve success. You can praise hard work, good learning strategies, and perseverance. (Read more about praise here.)
2. Model the growth mindset.
One of the most important things you can do to foster a growth mindset in your children is to have one yourself. (If you’re not sure whether you have a fixed or growth mindset, take this assessment.) If you don’t have a growth mindset, it’s never too late to develop one.
When you’re in a growth mindset, be careful what you say about others’ successes. Don’t attribute their success to innate ability. Talk about the hard work and strategies needed to achieve success (“That competitor on America’s Got Talent must have trained for hours every single day!”). Talk to your children about the mistakes you’ve made and what you’ve learned from them. Teach them that failure is nothing to be afraid of.
Finally, avoid using labels such as “the smart kid” or “the artistic one.” This contributes to the mentality that abilities are innate.
3. Teach children the brain is like a muscle.
Every time we learn something new, the brain changes by forming new neural connections. The brain gets stronger with training, just like a muscle. Researchers have found that this simple but vivid analogy helps students learn the growth mindset and achieve better results at school.
You can learn more about teaching the growth mindset at www.mindsetworks.com. I'm not affiliated with the website, but it's a great resource for parents and educators. Have a great school year!
Blackwell, L.S., Trzesniewski, K.H., & Dweck, C.S. (2007). Implicit theories of intelligence predict achievement across an adolescent transition: A longitudinal study and an intervention. Child Development, 78 (1), 246-263.