Many parents understand the importance of fostering a growth mindset in their children. Having a growth mindset radically improves motivation, and is directly related to achievement. Studies prove that kids with a growth mindset tend to flourish, while those without one tend to underachieve.
This is why you might have seen those wildly popular growth mindset posters in your child’s classroom. Or, maybe you’ve heard the “growth mindset” buzzword thrown around by coaches, teachers, and child development gurus.
As a parent, you might realize how critical it is to encourage a growth mindset at home. Perhaps you make sure to praise all of your child’s efforts (not their intelligence). Maybe you even banned “fixed mindset” words from your home (like “I can’t” or “I give up”).
But, did you know you could be making one of the most common mistakes around growth mindset with your child?
Carole Dweck, the Stanford psychologist who led the famous growth mindset studies, urges parents and educators to “revisit the concept”. Because, she says, many parents and educators are missing the point.
Why Does Mindset Matter?
“Individuals who believe their talents can be developed (through hard work, good strategies, and input from others) have a growth mindset,” says Dweck.
In the book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, Dweck dives deep into explaining her ground-breaking discoveries around mindset, and how our mindsets influence every aspect of our lives. From parenting to business, school, and even relationships – mindset is the common denominator when it comes to unlocking our full potential.
At our core, we all carry beliefs about our own intelligence, skills, and abilities. Dr. Dweck and her colleagues realized that “students’ mindsets – how they perceive their abilities – played a key role in their motivation and achievement.”
Not only did she find that students who believed their abilities could be developed consistently outperformed students who thought that their abilities were fixed, but her team also proved a key concept that would go on to forever change our understanding of success:
“We found that if we changed students’ mindsets, we could boost their achievement…. And when students learned… that they could ‘grow their brains’ and increase their intellectual abilities, they did better.”
So, What Exactly Is Growth v. Fixed Mindset?
A fixed mindset refers to a set of beliefs that our abilities are static and we do not have the power to change them in any significant way. Someone with a fixed mindset believes that their intelligence or talents are innate. Believing, “You either have it or you don’t — period.”
Research shows that individuals with a consistently fixed mindset worry more about how others will perceive them and are concerned about “looking smart”. Because of their desire to keep up the way that others perceive them, they run away from learning opportunities that challenge them to avoid making mistakes – or worse – cause them to fail.
This is one of the reasons why people with a fixed mindset tend to underperform in comparison to their growth minded peers. “Individuals who believe their talents can be developed (through hard work, good strategies, and input from others) have a growth mindset.”
Growth minded people embrace challenges and see their setbacks not as mistakes but as evidence of their effort and a chance to grow. Adopting a growth mindset sparks a desire to learn. The growth minded find joy and fulfillment from the process of learning itself.
The Most Common Misconception around Growth-Mindset:
“If I’m always praising my child’s effort, then I’m helping them to be growth-minded.”
Many of you have probably seen this wildly popular video that summarizes the findings of Dweck’s mindset studies:
The researchers gave a group of 400 students a very easy IQ test, and then praised the group in one of two ways:
- Group 1 was praised for their intelligence. “Great job students – you must be very smart.”
- Group 2 was praised for their effort. “Great job students – you must have worked very hard at this.”
Spoiler alert: at the end of the study, the kids praised for their effort outperformed the kids that were praised for their intelligence by 50%!
So, what was the key takeaway? Praise effort, not intelligence.
Many parents and teachers were left thinking that if they just reward kids’ effort then they were encouraging a growth mindset. And just like all distortions of popular research – they’re sort of right… but that isn’t the full picture.
Not so fast, warns Dweck. “A growth mindset is [NOT] just about praising and rewarding effort… unproductive effort is never a good thing. It’s critical to reward not just effort but learning and progress.”
In fact, studies show that empty praise from parents can actually hurt kids’ self-esteem. So instead of praising your child for their effort and stopping there — dig a bit deeper. When we realize that effort is only part of the growth mindset equation we can better understand how to encourage our child’s development.
“We also need to remember that effort is a means to an end to the goal of learning and improving.” The common problem occurs when well-intentioned parents praise their children for effort when they aren’t actually learning, and then stop there.
It’s important to create a desire for tackling new challenges and improving on what they’re learning. A growth minded individual deeply enjoys the journey of learning itself.
Instead of only saying to your child “Great job! You tried really hard at that. I’m so proud of your effort” you will want to add another phrase or question to foster their growth mindset. Remember: you are praising their effort to skyrocket their desire for learning. Add on something like, “Tell me what you tried this time, and what you want to try next time to get even better.”
Yes, while it’s important to praise your child’s effort, keep in mind the whole point of praising their effort in the first place: to create a desire to learn, grow, and improve.
Simply praising your child for any of their efforts regardless of the outcome could be causing your child more harm than good. And, that is not teaching them how to take on new challenges, learn new strategies when they have setbacks, or seek support from people that could help.
Instead, remember that your goal is to help your child fall in love with the process of learning and take pride in their progress. Encourage them to enjoy the process of trying challenging and difficult tasks. When they overcome a big obstacle at school or try something new and challenging make sure to praise that!
Have experience with fostering growth mindset in your child? Leave a comment below!
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