Fostering Growth in Our Children

“Let’s give students learning tasks that tell them, ‘You can be as smart as you want to be.’”

Carol S. Dweck

In 2006 Carol Dweck, Ph.D. published a book entitled, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. The premise of her research is that if we believe we can grow and develop our intelligence then we actually will (growth mindset). On the contrary, if we believe that we are born with a fixed level of intelligence we will limit our ability to grow our cognitive skills and will shy away from challenging experiences that may make us feel dumb or like a failure (fixed mindset). When students believe their abilities can be changed and not predetermined, they begin to embrace challenges as a way to grow their skills and help maximize their success in school and life in general.

So how do we foster this type of growth mindset in our own children? Here are a few ideas:

* Adapt the way we praise our children.

When we praise our children for simply being smart, it gives them a false sense of confidence. When they are faced with a challenge, they potentially may shy away from trying to solve the problem, worried that failure might indicate they are not smart.

Instead, try praising their effort. More importantly, praise their willingness to try new strategies even if their effort doesn’t get them where they want to go. Foster the idea that they can grow and develop their abilities. Their skills are not set in stone. Just because math is difficult does not mean that they will never be good at math. For example, it would be like saying your arm muscles are weak, therefore, you will always be weak. On the contrary, you can work hard, lift weights, exercise, and strengthen those arm muscles.

* Help your child embrace the growth mindset.

Emphasize to your children that they have the power to improve their thinking skills through hard work and attempting different strategies. Just because a task is difficult now does not mean it always will be. Help your children develop the mindset of trying different problem-solving strategies to tackle a problem. Teach them to take such efforts, implementing different approaches, until they find one or more strategies that actual work for them.

* Periodically assess yourself and your child on whether the concept of the growth mindset is flourishing or is the fixed mindset creeping back in?

When someone has a skill that your child needs are they envious or threatened (reflecting a focus on the fixed mindset) by the individual or are they eager to learn (reflecting the growth mindset) from that individual? Are they eager to learn from feedback (growth) or are they angry or disheartened that they made a mistake (fixed)? It’s important to allow children the chance to make mistakes, and then try alternative ways to solve the problem, whether it be an academic task, interpersonal difficulty, or challenge on the basketball court.

Periodically check out this diagram or a similar resource to remind yourself of the growth mindset. You could print it out and hang in a place where your children can see it as a helpful visual reminder. We all have the power within us to grow.

Growth Mindset vs. Fixed Mindset

Additional Resources:

Carol Dweck Revisits The Growth Mindset


How Not To Talk To Your Kids

Even Geniuses Work Hard

To Purchase Carol Dweck Book, Mindset