A simple switch on how a person views a situation can mean the world of difference. This is true for both children and adults, and as parents and teachers can help children access this switch through the fostering of a growth mindset.
‘Growth mindset’, focuses on the journey, effort and resilience, the harder we try, the more we will develop and learn, the more likely we will reach a goal. It helps children expand their problem solving abilities and use this approach to greatly influence all learning.
What is growth mindset?
A fixed mindset assumes levels of ability cannot be changed. “Natural” talent leads to success and things are absolute, you are either good at it or you’re not.
In contrast, growth mindset is a way of thinking that trusts that with effort and persistence one can improve their abilities. It views all successes and errors as part of a journey, celebrating trying rather than the reaching of the goal.
How does growth mindset influence learning?
Infants naturally have a growth mindset, for example, learning how to walk is a process that takes thousands of attempts, it needs patience, determination, and resilience. However, as children grow they can develop a fear of failure which hinders the learning process, because it is through failure that we learn the most.
It is important to foster a growth mindset in children to help them understand that one single outcome doesn’t define their ability or — more importantly — their potential. People with a growth mindset understand that trying is part of learning and embrace problems as an opportunity to learn.
Encouraging kids to learn new things also helps them cultivate the skill of learning. New abilities can be developed through practice and persistence despite obstacles, trying with progressive improvements.
The self-talk that children develop and carry with them to school and into adulthood is also greatly impacted by a growth mindset approach and parents and teachers play an important role in building a child’s inner voice, both through role modelling and education.
7 Tips to promote growth mindset in children
- Talk to children about how their brain grows like any other muscle in the body, how it needs to practice to get stronger. Let them know when they have used their brain effectively, and talk about what they are learning.
- Resist the temptation of praising children based on fixed ideals like being smart, gifted, or talented. This implies that they were born with a set quality that can’t be changed, one that they already have and don’t need to be motivated to work on to improve.
- Celebrate attempts, determination, resilience and effort. Praise the process not the result. Measuring results comes from a rigid and fixed mindset.
- Embrace failure. Highlight what was learnt from a first attempt, second, third attempt, as each attempt is different. Remember that resilience is a necessary life skill. When a goal is achieved reflect on how great it feels to reach that goal after so much hard work and problem solving was attempted. Discuss how the effort to work through something challenging is more satisfying than quickly reaching the endpoint of a simple task.
- Use open ended questions in discussions to help immerse children in learning. When children want to advance their knowledge on a topic they will actively seek to without the need of a set goal or end reward.
- Role model growth mindset thinking, language and behaviour in all your interactions with children.
- Develop their inner voice using a growth mindset vocabulary like this:
Fixed mindset vs Growth mindset
I’m not good at this. / What am I missing?
I’m awesome at this. / I’m on the right track.
I give up. / I’ll use some of the strategies I’ve learned.
This is too hard. / This may take some time and effort.
I can’t make this any better. / I can always improve so I’ll keep trying.
I just can’t do math. / I’m going to train my brain in math.
I made a mistake. / Mistakes help me to learn better.
She’s so smart, I will never be that smart. / I’m going to figure out how she does it.
It’s good enough. / Is it really my best work?
Plan ‘A’ didn’t work. / Good thing the alphabet has 25 more letters!