Nine year old Jessie stormed through the front door and threw her math test on the kitchen table. “I’m just not good at math!” she exclaimed. Her mom peered at the paper lurking near the fruit bowl. The grade was there in bright red: F – an F for failure.
Jessie had failed her math test and this wasn’t the first time. Her mom sighed and said, “You know, I was never any good at math, so you probably won’t be either.”
Neither of them knew it then, but Jessie’s fixed mindset was inadvertently nurtured by her well-meaning parent – and the effects would last into her adult life.
What is Mindset? Fixed vs. Growth Mindset
The term “mindset” was first coined by author and researcher Carol Dweck in her bestselling book, “Mindset.” According to author Mary Cay Ricci in her book, Mindsets for Parents: Strategies for Encouraging Growth Mindset in Kids,
“A mindset is a set of personal beliefs and is a way of thinking that influences your behavior and attitude toward yourself and others.“
In short, a person with a growth mindset will grow and thrive in their various dimensions of development because they embrace the fact that failure can make them stronger. They don’t give up in the face of setbacks.
People with a fixed mindset, in contrast, avoid challenges – especially ones they perceive that might not make them look “smart.” Further, those with a fixed mindset believe they are either good at something or they’re not – practice won’t make a difference.
This can have consequences for one’s career, school work, athletic performance, and even on the playground. Before parents can begin to brainstorm strategies for encouraging a growth mindset, it is helpful to have a better understanding of fixed mindset thinking.
Parents can begin to ask: “How do I define success for myself and for my child?”
How to Nurture a Growth Mindset: Persistence, Effort, and Attitude are Key
With awareness and knowledge about growth mindset, parents can offer the support and encouragement kids need to overcome fixed mindset obstacles. Parents should realize that most people have both fixed and growth mindsets, depending on the life stage and situation. The goal, though, is to have awareness of responses to failure and promote a growth mindset.
Whether it’s in the classroom or out on the athletic field, the message that many kids internalize is that their abilities are far more important than their effort. A cornerstone of growth mindset thinking is that practice, effort, and resiliency create success. Many experts believe resiliency, the ability to bounce back after a disappointment or failure, is one of the most important attributes of cultivating a growth mindset.
Growing Into a Growth Mindset: Strategies for Parents
There are several strategies to employ, and thoughts to keep in mind, when reflecting on mindset among kids.
Here are some tips:
Praise – Avoid praising kids for being ‘smart’ when they succeed at a new task or get an ‘A’ on a test. All kids will fail after trying an activity at some point. Some kids wonder if their parents still think they’re smart when this happens. Instead of telling kids they are smart, consider complimenting a child’s effort, strategy, and/or persistence.
Growth Mindset Role Model – Lead by example. Kids are listening when they hear parents utter statements such as: “I’m no good at math – I can’t even balance this checkbook!” or “My family members were never very athletic, so I’m hopeless.” Parents set kids up for an internal battle when they blame challenges or deficiencies on genetics. By the same token, when a child brings home a paper that features a less than stellar grade, strive to stay calm. Focus on the learning process rather than the grade only.
The Power of ‘Yet’ – When kids come home in a stupor of frustration or anger, teach them about the power of ‘yet.’ You might say, “I see you are feeling angry and frustrated. You might not understand your English assignment, but you will. You just don’t get it YET.” Encourage your child to see if something is missing. Most kids feel hopeful when they are reminded that they will understand if they persist.
Discourage Envy – Feeling jealous of siblings and/or peers is a common but sometimes difficult issue. Kids who are already prone to a fixed mindset often feel threatened when others achieve or do well. Reminding kids within a family to focus on their own efforts, and compare themselves to no one, can be a welcome message for kids.
Vocabulary Mindfulness – When parents hear kids say, “I can’t” or “I give up!” they can encourage kids to say, “I can,” or “What am I missing?” or “What can I do differently?” Parents can redirect fixed mindset thinking with more positive, productive thought processes.
Avoid Bribes – Some parents pay kids for As on report cards, home-runs, baskets made, and touchdowns, just to name a few. But consider this: There are two types of motivation that directly affect one’s mindset: extrinsic and intrinsic motivation.
When parents pay or bribe a child, he or she is temporarily motivated by an extrinsic reward. On the other hand, when parents show kids that their attitude and effort influence one’s success, the child can begin to develop intrinsic motivation, the desire and quest to achieve that comes from within.
Permission to Fail – In American society, kids learn early that achievement is of utmost importance. However, failure can be a gift. Kids need to know it’s OK to make mistakes, as this is an important part of the learning process. It’s not easy to watch kids struggle, but constantly rushing in to save them in order to help them avoid failing or looking bad can do them a disservice. Of course, occasionally stepping in when kids are facing a challenge is justified; but remember that challenging experiences can guide kids to where they need to be on their learning journey.
Parents Have the Power of Positive Influence
Parents and caregivers have the power to positively influence children. When parents are aware of what a fixed mindset looks like, and encourage growth mindset thinking, they can help build confidence levels so that kids can embrace their own version of success. Remember the See/Hear/Do model:
-See- Showcase papers on the refrigerator that feature growth and progress. It’s OK to display work that doesn’t have an “A” on it, especially if kids can see that parents value their effort and hard work- not just when they bring home a traditionally good grade. This way, kids will be able to view their progress.
-Hear- Parents are conditioned to say “Good job!” when their kids bring home a good grade or excel on the athletic field. Instead, be more specific and allow kids to hear: “I notice a lot of improvement” or “I’m so proud of your effort!” This will further communicate that parents are authentically observing the child in his or her efforts.
-Do- Appreciate processes more than outcomes. Parents can help children understand that learning is a process and guide them in making age-appropriate goals. This will allow parents to show kids they value their work ethic more than their achievements.
Parents and Kids: Working Together for a Growth Mindset
With their own effort and perseverance, parents can help kids see that there are many different versions of success, and that these triumphs depend on hard work and practice- not just the talent of a select few. There’s enough room for everyone to embrace success.© Copyright Julie Lemming, All rights Reserved. Written For: Decoded Parenting