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“If parents want to give their children a gift, the best thing they can do is to teach their children to love challenges, be intrigued by mistakes, enjoy effort, and keep on learning.”-Carol Dweck
As parents, we want the best for our children. We want them to be happy and successful and are committed to teaching them the skills needed to live their best lives. But how do we teach children the skills needed for success? How do we encourage them to do their best and not settle for good enough? How do we cultivate a willingness in them to try new things and to stick with things even when they have a hard time completing them?
Research conducted by Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck and others, suggest that the answers to the above questions lies in how parents and children believe abilities and talents are developed. According to Dweck, our beliefs about where our abilities come from fall somewhere on a continuum between having a fixed mindset and a growth mindset (Dweck, 2006).
Dweck defines a fixed mindset as the belief that basic qualities such as intelligence and talent are fixed traits that you are born with which cannot be changed. People with a fixed mindset believe that they are either good at something or they are not. They believe that they are either smart, or they are not. Children who develop a fixed mindset tend to perform poorly academically, especially as school work gets harder. They often give up when faced with challenges (i.e learning a new skill like playing an instrument) because they believe that they lack the talent to do something.
On the other hand, Dweck defines a growth mindset as the belief that success is based on hard work, training, and perseverance. People with a growth mindset believe that they can learn and do almost anything with commitment, dedication, and hard work. Children who develop a growth mindset recognize that even if they don’t have a “talent’ for something, they can always improve with practice.
How To Create A Growth Mindset Home Environment
Recent studies show that children’s beliefs about where abilities (i.e. intelligence and talent) comes from are learned from their environment. For example, when children come from a home environment in which they are taught that abilities such as intelligence and talent are abilities you are born with and are completely based on genetics, children tend to develop a fixed mindset. They might be afraid to challenge themselves or try new things because they believe they just don’t have the talent or intelligence to do what it takes to get the job done.
Conversely, kids who are raised in a growth mindset home environment typically believe that they can grow their intelligence and talent with practice, effort, and hard work. They understand that even though they may not achieve success right away, if they persevere, they can grow and succeed (Ricci & Lee, 2016).
So how do parents cultivate a home environment that develops and reinforces a growth mindset? Here are some strategies parents can implement immediately to create a growth mindset home environment.
- Model what a growth mindset “looks” like in action. Parents have tremendous influence on how their children’s belief system develops. If you want your child to develop a growth mindset, then show them what a growth mindset ‘looks’ like. Let your children see how you handle making mistakes. This will help them learn what to do when faced with their own setbacks. It’s also important that you show your kids that you are willing to try new things. This will give your children the confidence to challenge themselves without having a fear of failure..When children see their parents modeling a growth mindset, it teaches them that making mistakes, struggling through obstacles, and rebounding from failure are natural life experiences. These types of experiences allow children’s brains to grow and change over time.
- Teach children that their brains can grow and change. Children need to understand that the brain is malleable and can improve how it works over time based on their experiences. Let your child know that their brain can grow and change throughout the course of their lives. This is important because if a child beIieves that how their brain works is fixed from birth, parents will have a difficult time motivating their children to do or learn anything. It’s crucial that you teach your child that the brain is like a muscle and it gets stronger or weaker depending on how they use it. This conveys to your children that even if they don’t have a ‘talent’ for something, their brains are designed in such away that with hard work and effort, they can still learn and improve their ability to perform or complete a task.
- Monitor the messages given to children about how abilities are developed. Sometimes parents unknowingly reinforce fixed mindset beliefs in their children. For example, my husband is good at math and me…not so much. When my oldest son used to ask me to help him with complex math problems, I usually said something like “math is not my strong suit” or “you’re dad’s the math genius in the family.” My statements to my son conveyed to him that since I don’t have a talent for math like my ‘genius’ husband, there’s no sense in trying. It also sent the message to my son that ability is fixed. Telling him his dad is the math genius of the family in essence says “You are either a math genius or you’re not. If parents want to cultivate a growth mindset home environment, then they have to use language that communicates their value of hard work and effort to their children.
- Praise children’s process, not their natural abilities. Many well-meaning parents believe that telling their children how smart and talented they are will build their child’s self-esteem. However, research conducted by Dweck and others revealed that when children are praised for who they are instead of for what they do, they tend to develop a fixed mindset and give up when faced with difficult tasks. Instead of praising the child for who they are (i.e. you’re so smart, you are so talented,), praise their process– which is the effort and strategies they used to get the job done. (i.e.You’ve been working all day on your project. Keep up the good work!). When parents.praise their children’s process, kids learn to value hard work and effort and are more likely to develop a growth mindset. Here are some examples of growth mindset language you can use to praise your child.
- Encourage children to embrace failure. Failure is a natural part of life and it plays a key role in developing a growth mindset. Failure gives children an opportunity to reflect on their process to see what worked and what didn’t work in order to come up with different strategies to tackle the problem. Don’t be afraid to let your children see you fail. Instead, use your failure as a teachable moment. When we teach children to embrace failure, it helps them build resiliency which allows them to cope with the challenges of life we all face.
- Motivate children with the power of ‘yet’. Sometimes even when children work hard and do their best, they still don’t achieve their desired outcome. This can be frustrating and can lead children to develop and ‘I can’t’ attitude. One way parents can encourage their children through setbacks is to remind them that setbacks are temporary. Explain to them that although they might not be able to complete a task yet, with hard work, effort, and practice they can always improve and accomplish more. Additionally, when you encourage children with yet, they learn that you believe in them and that their abilities can always improve.
How do you encourage and support a growth mindset home environment within your home? Please share your tips in the comments so it can be of use to other parents!
Check out these additional growth mindset resources that can be used at home by parents!
Dweck, C. S. (2006). Mindset: The new psychology of success. New York: Random House Publishing Group.
Ricci, M. C., & Lee, M. (2016). Mindsets for parents: Strategies to encourage growth Mindsets in kids. United States: Prufrock Press.