by Ronaldo Tumbokon
What Is Growth Mindset?
A large part of your child’s success in life depends on his mindset, or what his mind believes about himself. A child can believe that he is not so smart, is not good at math, or not creative. This is commonly how a child thinks, and many times, this belief about himself is actually instilled in him by his parents.
This is called fixed mindset – the belief that whatever capability, talent and intelligence a child has is already set, static, and a part of his mental makeup – and he cannot do anything about it.
On the other hand, your child can also believe that even though he is not so smart, he can make himself smart, or he can make himself good at math or any subject, or be creative – if he works to develop these skills and make himself grow to what he wants to become. This is called growth mindset.
A growth mindset is the belief that how capable, talented and intelligent you are can actually change with hard work. That means that as long as you are willing to work hard and have the perseverance and dedication to keep going through challenges, you can be good at anything.
Sometimes a mindset is unconscious, and a child is not aware of it. But the effect of it on his life can be profound.
By teaching your child to have a growth mindset, he doesn’t become resigned to what he believes his capabilities are, but thinks that he can work on what he thinks is lack of ability. Most people who are successful are taught or have taught themselves growth mindset when they were young.
Growth mindset vs. fixed mindset
Here are the qualities of a person that has a growth mindset:
- Believes he can learn new things, be good at something, and improve his skills with correct practice
- Believes that he is growing and getting better every day as he learns and practice his way to gain new skills and knowledge.
- Motivates himself to attain a goal, and doesn’t give up.
- Believes he can train his brain and make himself whatever he wants to be with persistence and effort
- Loves learning and trying new things, especially about things he is not good at, and believes his brain grows by facing challenges and learning hard things
- Believes difficulties are just opportunities to learn and grow
- Doesn’t impose limitations on himself and believing there are things he cannot do, without even trying.
- Isn’t afraid to fail, or make mistakes, because he uses failure to do better in his next try, and considers making mistakes as part of the learning experience
- Asks for help or ask questions when he faces difficulty in achieving or learning something
- Takes feedback from others as helpful observations and opinions meant to guide him in his pursuit to get better.
- Is inspired by others’ achievements
Here are qualities of a person with a fixed mindset:
- Thinks his capabilities are inborn and are predetermined, and believes he is either good at something or is not.
- Avoids challenges so as not to break his self-perception of his capabilities and limitations
- Believes that overcoming weaknesses and spending effort on acquiring a new skill is futile because he is “born that way”, and is stuck with it
- Believes that his brain is fixed, can’t change, and can’t accomplish something new.
- Just sticks to what he knows and what he is good at, and avoids stepping out of his comfort zone.
- Avoids work because he does not want to make mistakes
- If he makes a mistake, he doesn’t care to reflect on how he can avoid the same mistake again.
- Ignores the feedback of others, because he feels there is no value in it. Worse, he sees feedback from others as criticism or personal attack.
- Gives up when he fails, because he thinks he just don’t have it in him.
- Avoids asking questions because he doesn’t want anyone (or himself) to know that he doesn’t know all the answers.
- Sees the success of others as a threat, and feels vulnerable and insecure about it
Note that not all children are either one or the other. Having a growth or fixed mindset can be seen as a spectrum, that is, both mindsets can exist in all of us. A child believes that he can grow in some things and not in others. The important thing is that in every opportunity, strive to guide your child towards having a growth mindset in as many areas as possible.
Why Do Kids Need a Growth Mindset?
When a child learns to have a growth mindset, and works hard to gain new capabilities or overcome his weaknesses, he learns that he can go beyond what he believes himself to be. Succeeding in one thing gives him confidence that he can succeed in other things. And this makes him a success in life.
Carol Dweck, a proponent of growth mindset, talks about how it can help students succeed.
What Are the Benefits of Having a Growth Mindset?
- It makes a child love learning, and embrace the opportunity to learn. This is an important skill in school and life as well
- It makes a child realize that learning is more important than grades, and she therefore finds no value in cheating just to get good grades
- It makes her receptive to setbacks, and sees them positively as opportunity for learning and growth, instead of seeing herself as failure. This makes her react to failure not by being anxious or depressed, but by being challenged and motivated to work on overcoming her weakness.
- It makes her more resilient, more important in a fast-changing world where some skills become obsolete or irrelevant, and get replaced with others. It is important that one has the ability to reinvent himself.
Growth mindset quotes for inspiration
Here are some quotes that provides inspiration for having a growth mindset:
- “Day by day in every way, I am getting better and better” – Émile Coué
- The world’s foremost cellist, Pablo Casals, when he was 83, was asked one day why he continued to practice four and five hours a day. Casals answered, “Because I think I am making progress.”
- “Genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration.” – Edison
- “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” – Edison
- “If we did all the things we are capable of, we would literally astound ourselves.” – Edison
- “Quitters never win, winners never quit” – Vince Lombardi
- “The path to growth mindset is a journey, not a proclamation” – Carol Dweck
Growth mindset examples
Some real-life examples of young people having a growth mindset, and succeeds at making themselves better persons:
- Lily is having a hard time understanding Algebra, and sees that her classmates are able to understand the lessons, but she cannot. She works hard at it, and spends time and effort understanding her algebra textbook and practicing solving algebraic problems. She even goes to YouTube and other online resources for help, and with more practice, she is not only able to pass, but got top grades too.
- Nelson is not an active child. He spends most of his leisure time reading a book or playing computer games. One day, he realizes that exercise is important for his body, and he becomes determined to take up running and be good at it. On his first day, he ran around the block, and found himself stopping a lot and gasping for breath. He struggles every day to keep running, and before long, he finds himself running around the block without stopping and gasping for breath. Then he forces himself to run an additional block. After practicing for many more days, he finds that he can around a few more blocks easily. He then keeps increasing his running distance, until eventually after a year, he is running a 5K fun run, and thinking of joining a marathon.
- Gina wants to win a playwriting contest. She reads every play and how-to writing books that she can get her hands on. She joined for 2 consecutive years, but did not win. She analyzed what makes the winning plays so good that they won prizes. She keeps practicing writing and reading even more plays, until eventually is able to land a place in the annual playwriting contest.
How to teach growth mindset to kids
Growth mindset can be learned, and therefore can be taught. It’s ideal to start training your child this mindset when they are young. Here are ways to teach growth mindset to kids:
- When your child is young, read storybooks or watch movies that demonstrate the growth mindset being displayed by the main character to achieve his goals. Discuss this with your child. You and your child can also listen and learn songs that illustrates the growth mindset.
- When you are with your child, do not use language that gives your child the impression that nothing can be done about any of your or his capability. For example, don’t hear let him hear you say “I’m not good at math”, or to your child, “That’s okay, I know you’re not artistic”.
- Instead, say positive things to him to influence his mind that he can do things that he sets out to do and willing to work to achieve them.
- Also teach your child positive self-talk. Instead of telling himself “I’m not good at math”, he should learn to tell himself “I don’t understand a lot of math now, but if I study and work hard at practicing math problems, I will eventually be good at it.”
- Encourage your child to set goals for himself, and achieve it one small step at a time. The important thing is to not stop.
- Praise your child for effort and hard work, regardless of the outcome, and not for being naturally smart.
- Praise your child more for working and improving on a task, rather than achieving a task. Praise progress, and not perfection.
- Give your child good feedback. When she makes a mistake, ask her what the mistake is, and why it happened. Ask him how she can prevent the mistake from happening again, and what she learned from the mistake that will make him a better person. Impress upon him that mistakes are normal.
- Teach your child to be positive about his capability to improve his confidence and believe in himself, and that he has the capacity to learn and be better with practice.
- Tell your child that learning something hard is similar to exercising his muscles to be stronger. Learning something hard changes the brain to be stronger. (Link to: How brain learn and grow)
- If your child says something like “I can’t do this”, correct her by telling her to say “I can’t do this YET” instead.
- Enroll your child in skills training that is challenging, but one that she is motivated to learn, so that she experiences the process of learning, for example, she can learn how to code, create art or play music. This way, she will apply her knowledge of how to learn when she tries to develop other skills later in life.
- Have a high expectation of your child in terms of his growth, and communicate this to him verbally or by body language, using positive reinforcement and constructive feedback.
- Let your child see you practice growth mindset on your own life.
Jannelle Monae’s “Power of Yet” is an example of a song that inspires the growth mindset.
Growth mindset activities
To demonstrate how growth mindset works, and teach your child its effects, here are some activities you can do:
- Positive self-talk: List a number of fixed mindset/negative self-talk sentences, then ask your child to change this to positive self-talk instead. Examples of negative self-talk: “I’m not just not good at math”, “Math is too hard, I’ll just try to be good enough and not excel”, “I’m a failure because I always make a mistake”, “I tried and failed, I give up”
- Do something different: Ask your child to write a sentence with a non-dominant hand. It will be hard at first, and soon she’ll be able to do a good job. Explain to your child what happens to her brain when she was doing this – which is, how “neuroplasticity” works. When faced with a challenge, or a difficult task, with practice, the brain creates new neural pathways to adapt to make the task easier the next time. In short, she is making his brain grow! You can also show your child this video:
- Learn something new with practice: With a musical instrument (for example, a piano), introduce your child to a piece he hasn’t played before. Ask your child to learn it, and guide him when necessary (for example, this video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2N_z_HQprv0 ) After he mastered a piece, ask him how he is able to learn, and point out that even hard things can be learned by practice. Praise or reward him for his effort. Other challenges your child can improve on with practice include:
- Speed Typing
- Learning a new language
- Learning a dance routine
- Learning to bike
Growth mindset books for further exploration:
Mindset: The New Psychology of Success
The seminal book about growth mindset is a must-read if you’re interested in the topic – which every parent should be
Growth Mindset Workbook for Kids: 55 Fun Activities to Think Creatively, Solve Problems, and Love Learning
This book contains fun kid activities and exercises to teach them and make them experience having a growth mindset.
Your Fantastic Elastic Brain: A Growth Mindset Book for Kids to Stretch and Shape Their Brains
This multi-awarded book is also a great resource for teaching growth mindset.
Growth mindset posters for inspiring your child
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About the author:
Ronaldo Tumbokon is a researcher/writer who works in media, and writes about the effects of technology, toys, books and others on children’s minds.