What we are talking about here is developing a ‘growth mindset’ in your child. I know it sounds like corporate speak but the concept is absolutely sound, even for children!
Firstly, a couple of terms defined. A fixed mindset is one which believes basic qualities like intelligence or talent are fixed traits. In contrast, a growth mindset believes that basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work, brains and talent are the starting point. To paraphrase Alfred Binet (the inventor of the first IQ test) “it is not always the people who start the smartest who end up the smartest”
Children with a growth mindset believe they can improve themselves through effort, persistence, learning from mistakes and trying different strategies. This view creates a love of learning and resilience for great accomplishment.
So how can I help develop my child’s growth mind set?
The first thing children need to know is that our intelligence isn’t fixed, that it can change. It can get stronger or weaker depending on how much effort we are willing to apply. Teach them that people with a growth mindset believe they can learn, change, and develop needed skills. They will be better equipped to deal with the inevitable setbacks, and know that hard work can help them reach their goals.
Consider using role models
Show your child examples of successful people that they can relate to who may have failed, struggled or just worked really hard for success. Try reading biographies, Steven Spielberg, for example, was rejected twice by the University of California’s School of Cinematic Art! Another great example is Sir James Dyson, he had 5,126 failed attempts at developing his bag less vacuum cleaner before succeeding with his 5,127th try!
Thinking growth mindset thoughts
Much of developing a growth mindset for children will be learned from listening to parents or teachers. Show them how to recognise fixed mindset thoughts and replace them with growth mindset thoughts, here are some examples:
Instead of ‘I’m no good at this’ – try ‘What am I missing?’
Instead of ‘I give up’ – try ‘I’ll use a different strategy’
Instead of ‘This is too hard’ – try ‘This may take some time to do’
Instead of ‘I made a mistake’ – try ‘Mistakes help me to learn’
Instead of ‘It’s good enough’ – try ‘Is this really my best work?’
When faced with a challenging task it is tempting to say “never mind, let’s try an easier one” when the wrong answer is given. But this doesn’t help, it lowers expectations and ultimately self-esteem of the child. Encourage them to find out what went wrong and learn from the mistake and make the error a positive experience, not a negative one.
Praise the process
It is often thought that praising intelligence builds confidence and motivation to learn, but while this may give a brief boost, this kind of praise leads to a mindset that is more concerned with looking smart than on actually working hard to learn. Parents and teachers do better to praise the process, or personal effort and any effective strategies used. Place the value on what the child has done and what they need to do to continue to succeed. This simple change in approach is one of the most effective ways to cultivate a growth mindset.
Developing a growth mindset will take consistency over time. You will know your child is starting to implement the growth mindset when you see them becoming more persistent, not dwelling on their failure much but instead thinking of their mistakes as problems to be learned.
If you want to know more about this topic look out for Dr Carol Dweck’s excellent book on the subject MINDSET.