A Parent’s Guide to Growth Mindset

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The concept of mindset, coined by Dr Carol Dweck, Stanford psychologist, is the idea that parents need to understand. Dweck notes that there are two different types of mindsets. 

A fixed mindset and a growth mindset.

Fixed Mindset

A fixed mindset is when a person believes that their skills, abilities and knowledge are unchangeable. They often feel they are either “good at” something or “not good” at something–with no room for improvement. People with a fixed mindset don’t believe they have the ability to change their intelligence. The phrase “I’m just not good at math” is something teachers hear often–this is an example of a fixed mindset.

Growth Mindset

On the other hand, a growth mindset is when a person believes that they can change their intelligence, skills and abilities through hard work. People with a growth mindset will often attribute their achievements to effort not an innate quality. 

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Why it’s Important for Learning

A child’s mindset has a huge impact on their ability to be successful–not only in academics but also throughout life. 

A growth mindset will allow children to feel confident in themselves and be less fazed by mistakes and failures. 

Here are 5 things parents can do to encourage a growth mindset.

  1. Allow for Productive Struggle

Create simple opportunities where children have to engage in productive struggle. This will mean you have to build in time for reasoning, puzzling and thinking. Let children attempt to do something on their own even if you think it’s too hard for them. When you see them struggle, give encouragement vs “taking away the struggle” by doing it for them. We want to teach them that the struggle to understand is part of the learning process. Teach them that the initial “I don’t know how” can be replaced with “How can I figure this out”

  1. Encourage Persistence 

Not everything your child does is going to come easy. Make sure you acknowledge that and praise their effort. Remind them that it’s okay to be frustrated. It’s even okay to take a break and work on something else. Have them think about the process they are using to solve the problem, ask them questions and help steer them in the right direction without letting them give up.

  1. “I can’t do this” is not allowed. 

This phrase holds children back from learning new concepts and material. It might be because they truly don’t understand, or because they are tired or frustrated. But using that phrase should be a no go in your house. Ask them why they think they can’t. Have them talk through the process and answer your questions vs you just explaining your personal reasoning.

  1. Talk About the Brain as a Muscle

When children understand that their brain can actually grow, stretch and get “stronger” they are more likely to take on challenges that allow for that growth. Explain to them that the brain needs to work out, just like any other muscle, in order to grow.

  1. A Positive Brain is a Smarter Brain

Children who have a positive outlook are more motivated and productive–they also are much more likely to achieve their goals. Brain chemistry can be altered by movement–so make sure your children engage in physical activity throughout the day. We can also create a positive outlook by encouraging our children to be conscious of their thoughts and feelings towards learning. This will allow them to shift negative thoughts if necessary.

Growth Mindset and Math

There is a widespread belief that some people are just not math people. This is absolutely not the case. In fact, that reasoning is a perfect example of a fixed mindset. 

We know that more kids have a fixed mindset about math, more than any other subject. It’s important we remove the pressure of math, make sure children understand that the brain actually grows when mistakes are made.

You can read more about specific ways to counter fixed math mindset here.

A Counterintuitive but Critical Part of the Learning Process

Here are three crucial ways parents can help children in the learning process.

  1. Embrace mistakes. 

Mistakes are how we learn. Talk about learning from your own mistakes and encourage your child to talk about what they have learned from their past mistakes.

  1. Encourage healthy risk taking. 

If children aren’t encouraged to take healthy risks when they are younger, they won’t learn how to properly assess and handle risks later in life–when the stakes are higher.

  1. Celebrate failure.

Failure is only feedback. No one who has ever done great things, has done so without failure. Shifting our mindset to appreciate failure as a part of the process is a game changer for many children. Failure is just a problem to be solved. 

Understanding Praise

Naturally parents want to praise their children. But it’s important to understand that the way you praise your child, has a significant impact on their growth and development. Specifically as it relates to their ability to develop a growth mindset and intrinsic motivation.

The most important thing to understand is that we should focus on praising effort vs. outcome. Here is a list of specific phrases to incorporate into the feedback and praise you give to your child.

Watch Carol Dweck speak about the concept of growth mindset: Developing a Growth Mindset

Interested in getting your little one to play independently?

Check out my Purposeful Playspace e-course to learn how to create a space for your children that invites them to playin ways that are more engaging, purposeful and independent.

Want more information about how play impacts your child’s development?

Check out my e-book: Simply Play: Everything You Need To Know About The Most Important Part of Childhood

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