Have you ever heard someone — maybe your child — say something like "I’m so good at this!" or "I stink at this!" or I’m never going to get this! and "I’m smart!"
These statements are examples of mindsets, or particular ways of thinking. All of them, whether positive or negative, are firm declarations about the capabilities of the speaker. The statements above are examples of a fixed mindset, or the belief that our abilities are unable to change no matter how hard we try. However, this isn’t the ideal attitude for learning, problem-solving, and being resilient. There’s a different, more beneficial, mindset that we are trying to develop in children, teens, and adults: the growth mindset.
The growth mindset is the ideal mindset for learners and people of all ages, and it’s best if we can foster this at a young age. Let’s explore what growth mindset is, why it’s important, and how we can use the right language with our kids to help them be the kind of people who don’t give up when the going gets tough.
Growth Mindset and Its Importance
Growth mindset is the idea that our brains grow and develop through practice. For example, if a child struggles with reading and just can’t seem to get it, they might be convinced they’re just not a good reader and that practice won’t help at all (a fixed mindset). But with a growth mindset, they’re more likely to keep trying different strategies until they experience improvement. Without a growth mindset, it is hard to approach situations that might result in failure. And that makes sense because it doesn’t exactly feel good to fail. The child struggling to read doesn’t want to fail, so they’ll avoid reading at all costs. But with a growth mindset, they can approach a challenging event and feel empowered to push through and try new strategies, rather than give up. A growth mindset allows them to focus on the process and progress they make rather than the final product. With a growth mindset, the struggling reader will keep practicing, learning, and trying new strategies until they improve and can read on their own.
Growth Mindset: Language to Use to Foster Growth Mindset
Every morning, my four-year-old son enjoys building with magnet tiles in his bedroom before we get our day started. When I inform him that it’s time to clean up, he insists that I come see today’s creation before he puts it away. Each day, his building is more advanced than the previous day’s, and I want to make sure he knows I’m impressed. What’s the best way to praise him, though? I could say:
- Good job, buddy!
- That is an awesome castle!
- So cool! It’s so tall and colorful!
- Wow, I can tell you really used your creativity!
While I know all of these responses would put a smile on my son’s face, I have to think about the bigger implications of my feedback. Rather than praise the final product (which is pretty cool, I have to admit), I need to take a different approach.
Carol Dweck, the Lewis and Virginia Eaton Professor of Psychology at Stanford University and the author of Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, is one of the world’s leading researchers on the concept of mindsets. She and her colleagues found that mindset plays an important role in motivation and achievement. They point out that it’s natural that we are all a mixture of fixed and growth mindsets, but they also suggest that using certain language and strategies can help us move closer to growth mindset in our thoughts and practices.
Here are some other phrases you can use with your child to develop their growth mindset:
- This was a difficult task, but your hard work paid off!
- Is there another strategy you can try?
- You have a big task ahead of you. This might take some time.
- Let’s learn how to do this!
- Mistakes can help us learn what to do better next time.
- That was a creative way to solve your problem!
- If you learn and practice, you’ll be able to do it on your own.
- It was really hard to get started on this, but look where you are now!
- What will you do differently next time?
- There’s always room for improvement, so let’s keep trying.
- When you learn how to read these new words, it grows your reading brain!
- What steps will you take next to grow your understanding?
- The feeling that this task is hard is the feeling of your brain growing!
As parents, it’s easy to give the praise that we’ve always heard, but it’s essential that we move away from the fixed mindset. Developing a growth mindset in our children (and in ourselves) is an ongoing process, and it’s important that we are mindful of our own thinking and the language we use with our children.
Books to Teach Kids About Growth Mindset
Check out these picture books to support your conversations about growth mindset at home.
The Most Magnificent Thing by Ashley Spires: This charming picture book highlights the story of a young girl with an idea to make the most magnificent thing. Though she has a plan, she experiences troubles and must persevere and change course in order to find success.
Your Fantastic Elastic Brain: Stretch It, Shape It by JoAnn Deak, Ph.D.: The author of this fun and informational book is both an educator and psychologist. This book teaches about the brain as something that can be exercised, just like the muscles in the rest of our bodies.
Beautiful Oops! by Barney Saltzberg: It’s okay to make mistakes! This major life lesson is the focus of this interactive book for young readers.
I Can’t Do That, YET: Growth Mindset by Esther Pia Cordova: Perfect for ages 4-8, this book tells the story of a girl who develops a growth mindset throughout her journey to reaching her potential.