Do you want your kids to know that they are loved unconditionally? Do you want them to be resilient and not give up? Do you want them to know they can get better at anything with practice?
You can achieve these things, and more, when you create a family culture that is rooted in a growth mindset.
A family culture that promotes a growth mindset helps kids learn that they can get better at things with practice. It also helps kids to be more secure and resilient throughout life.
About a year ago, I was taking a work seminar that taught me the value of a growth mindset over a fixed mindset. In the seminar, we watched this video based on the theories of Carol Dweck, one of the premier psychologists on the idea of a Growth Mindset.
According to Carol Dweck, “In a growth mindset, people believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work—brains and talent are just the starting point. This view creates a love of learning and a resilience that is essential for great accomplishment.”
After watching this video, my partner and I decided that we wanted to create a family culture that was rooted in a growth mindset. This was important to us because we wanted our daughter to be able to be happy and successful in life, and not to judge herself too harshly based on her failures.
Part of creating this type of family culture has to do with letting kids know that it is OK to make a mistake, and it just means they need to try again at the task with a new strategy. This teaches kids to problem solve, as well as letting them know that anyone can get better at something with practice.
When we started teaching our daughter this way she was four, now at five she seems to have internalized the ideas that we have been trying to teach her through the ways that we have praised her hard work.
Creating a growth mindset culture is the opposite of how I grew up, in a culture of perfectionism. When kids grow up with perfectionistic parents, they learn two things. First, that their best effort is never good enough. Second, that love is conditional based on accomplishments.
My partner and I wanted our daughter to know that she is loved unconditionally.
When you love a child unconditionally, they feel safe. This allows them to explore, make messes and mistakes, and to know that you will still love them no matter what their accomplishments.
After watching this video and doing more reading about Carol Dweck and her theories about a growth vs. fixed mindset, here are my top three takeaways.
#1 Typical manners of giving praise can contribute to our children having a fixed mindset.
Many times, we praise our kids based on their looks, or on their talents. We will say things like, "You look so pretty" or, "You are so smart."
While both of these do present a positive message for our kids, it also teaches them that they are valuable based on what are called fixed qualities.
If we praise kids for their innate qualities, such as looks or talent, then they will get the idea that the things that are good (or bad) about them are fixed. This means, they are being judged on qualities that don’t change with time. If you are pretty, you will always be pretty. You didn’t work at it. Similar with being smart. It is the way you are, not something that you worked at.
When we praise fixed qualities too frequently, it can lead to our kids having a fixed mindset.
According to Mindset Matters, "Fixed mindsets can lead to negative thinking. For instance, a person with a fixed mindset might fail at a task and believe it's because they aren't smart enough to do it. Whereas a growth mindset person might fail at the same task and believe it's because they need to spend more time practicing. "
When a child develops a fixed mindset, they are likely to give up on tasks more easily than if they have a growth mindset.
According to Today's Learner, some characteristics of a Fixed Mindset include:
· Believes talent and intelligence are innate
· Threatened by others’ success
· Sees feedback as an attack
· Defensive of flaws
The typical ways that we praise children, even though we are viewing them as positive, may have negative unintended consequences.
#2 We can help our kids to create a growth mindset.
After my partner and I watched Carol Dweck’s video, we decided to try the positive praise strategies that she teaches with our daughter.
We learned that, when you praise a child for hard work and effort, it teaches them that they can get better at things with practice. This helps to create a "growth mindset."
As children develop a growth mindset, they are more likely to be persistent with tasks, instead of giving up easily.
According to The Atlantic, "With a growth mindset, kids don’t necessarily think that there’s no such thing as talent or that everyone is the same, but they believe everyone can develop their abilities through hard work, strategies, and lots of help and mentoring from others."
A growth mindset can be valuable for kids in school, with their extracurricular activities, as well as for the future. The more kids believe they can do something, the harder they work, and the more likely that they actually can.
When kids have a growth mindset, they become life-long learners.
According to Today's Learner, some characteristics of a growth mindset include,
· Learning from failure
· Excited by challenges
· Belief in self
All of these positive qualities can be cultivated in our children by praising their effort instead of intelligence, and helps them to create a growth mindset.
Even Forbes weighs in on the issue of having a Growth Mindset vs. a Fixed Mindset, and focuses on how early childhood messages can contribute to one or the other.
Ever had a parent or teacher say this to you as a child,” You’re drawing is terrible. You just don’t have math skills. You are not athletic.” They were wrong. Here’s the good news. No matter your current mindset, you can adopt and nurture a growth mindset but you have work to do.
It is much easier to teach kids a growth mindset from a young age, then instilling them with a fixed mindset that they will need to work to change in adulthood.
Learning anything is easier as a child than as an adult.
So, we can help our kids learn things right the first time by helping them create a growth mindset from an early age. This will serve them well for a lifetime.
#3 Helping our kids create a growth mindset makes them more resilient.
The earlier that we teach them that they can do better if they try, and that failure just means that they need to try again, the easier they will learn new skills throughout life. It also will help them to be more resilient and persistent as well.
Resilience is the ability to bounce back after difficult circumstances.
Now that we have been using the praise strategies for creating a growth mindset for a while with our daughter River, she is much less likely to give up at something. Often, she will point out how hard she is working on something all on her own.
For example, if she is making a block tower, if it falls over the first time, she will work the next time to make it more stable. You can learn more easily from mistakes if you avoid seeing them as failures.
According to research on Dweck’s theories by David Yeager,
We show that students who believe (or are taught) that intellectual abilities are qualities that can be developed (as opposed to qualities that are fixed) tend to show higher achievement across challenging school transitions and greater course completion rates in challenging math courses. New research also shows that believing (or being taught) that social attributes can be developed can lower adolescents’ aggression and stress in response to peer victimization or exclusion, and result in enhanced school performance. We conclude by discussing why psychological interventions that change students’ mindsets are effective and what educators can do to foster these mindsets and create resilience in educational settings.
Resilience is an important quality for us to instill in our kids, so that they are better able to bounce back from difficult life circumstances, for example, the COVID-19 pandemic that we have been coping with recently. Kids will deal with the stress of the pandemic better the more resilient that they are.
How we talk to our kids matters. It matters a lot. Even the way we frame what we consider to be positive statements, such as praise, can make a big difference. The types of qualities we choose to praise are important; when we praise hard work over talent, it helps to instill a growth vs. a fixed mindset in our kids.
It is important to think about how we are phrasing our compliments, as much as our criticisms. When we learn to praise kids properly, it can help them build a growth mindset that will serve them for years to come!
A growth mindset makes kids more resilient, less likely to give up on difficult tasks and helps them keep trying even if they may fail at something the first time. This is the surest way to succeed in life. After all, Edison didn’t get the light bulb right on the first try either!
The 2-Minute Action Plan for Parents
Here are a few questions to think about:
1. How do you talk to your children?
2. Are you praising hard work or fixed qualities?
3. Do you think you have a fixed or growth mindset?
4. Do you think your children have a fixed or growth mindset?
The Ongoing Action Plan for Parents
You can start praising your children using Carol Dweck’s method right away. Remember, praise effort and hard work instead of beauty or intelligence.
Help your children to create a growth mindset and build resilience by encouraging them to try again when something doesn’t go right.
Teach them to be problem solvers, and figure out what they can do differently next time.
Let your kids know that if they make a mistake, it is OK and everyone makes mistakes. No one gets things perfect on the first try, it takes practice.
Point out times when you make a mistake, and let your kids see you fixing it.
You can implement these strategies for several months or years and eventually your kids will say these things themselves and you don’t have to. You can just reinforce the positive things they say themselves.
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