Over 30 years ago, groundbreaking research from Stanford University showed that people have their own beliefs about their abilities, talent, and potential. These personal beliefs make up a person’s mindset, which influences his way of thinking, behavior, and how he deals with life’s challenges.
Dr. Carol Dweck, Ph.D., professor of psychology from Stanford University who led the study and author of the book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, explained that adults and children either have a fixed mindset or a growth mindset — the latter is what fuels improvement and makes one suceed.
“We found that students’ mindsets — how they perceive their abilities — played a key role in their motivation and achievement, and we found that if we changed students’ mindsets, we could boost their achievement,” Dweck explained. “Students who believed their intelligence could be developed (a growth mindset) outperformed those who believed their intelligence was fixed (a fixed mindset),” she added.
Research on brain plasticity, or neuroplasticity, shows the human brain can evolve, grow new connections and strengthen existing neurons to improve its function. The mind is similar to a muscle —the more you use it, the stronger it gets. It’s shaped and enhanced by our questions, thoughts, decisions, and actions on top of how we nourish our bodies and give it time to rest and sleep.
Growth mindset vs. fixed mindset
A person with a fixed mindset believes his intelligence does not need developing. If he has talent, he does not have to make an effort to succeed. This quality, however, means he sticks with what he knows and makes him steer clear of challenges he thinks he cannot overcome. It is a mindset that makes him give up quickly because they’re afraid to fail when they try.
“[People with a fixed mindset] believe that if you need effort, it’s a sign that you don’t have the ability,” Dweck explained. “It’s one of the worst beliefs anyone can have. I believe it’s why so many promising students don’t fulfill their potential.”
Having a growth mindset, on the other hand, stems from the belief that being smart is acquired and you may not have been born with it. Intelligence can be developed and achieved through hard work, dedication, learning, and mentorship from others. It also means embracing challenges and persisting when faced with setbacks.
The advantages of a growth mindset in kids
A growth mindset person believes that effort plays a massive role in mastering a topic or skill. Failure is a natural part of learning; they do not hide or run from their mistakes — they learn from them.
Dweck explains about kids in a growth mindset, “They don’t think everyone’s the same. They understand that Einstein was not the guy he became before he put in years and years of dedicated labor.”
A kid with a growth mindset seeks to “learn at all time and at all costs,” says Dweck. They become equipped life skills such as problem-solving and resourcefulness so they cope better when changes, transitions, or stress happen. It gives kids a self-esteem boost, lessening the feeling of helplessness; it encourages them to do something to improve their plight.
Chances are, according to Dweck, all people person uses a combination of fixed and growth mindsets.
Developing and nurturing a growth mindset in your child
The best way to teach and instill in your child a growth mindset is to start as early as you can in his formative years. You don’t have to wait for him to be in preschool to influence and shape how he thinks.
Praise effort and not ability!
Dweck observed that children’s mindset are affected by how their parents praised them. Kids develop a growth mindset when they are praised for their effort and hard work and not just the end result of their task or project.
Apart from highlighting their hard work, you can also call your children’s attention to process or strategy (“You must have practiced a lot!”) or specific action (“I like that you waited until I finished talking on the phone instead of interrupting me.”). You can also use descriptive words (“life-like,” “vibrant”) instead of giving an evaluation (“beautiful,” “great”) when you give your child praise.
When in doubt, just describe what you see your child did. Keep it positive and try not to criticize. Don’t also overdo it. Remember, praise or feedback should instill in your child the love for learning.
Use the power of “yet”
“You can’t do it yet” or “I don’t know it yet” implies that you can improve after putting in some effort or practice. It also stresses the idea there is always room for improvement, and kids can do something to be better. “With more practice, you could probably run faster than you do now.”
Allow kids the time and space to work in their own way
Don't hover or overparent. Let your child work and then show interest in his strategies to show him process is more important than the end result. Ask, “How did you come up with that answer or technique?” Encourage your child to try new ways to be creative, like use sponges in place of paintbrushes during art time and see which ones work better . Make sure you keep it positive and fun, so he doesn’t think of it as a chore.
Encourage self-evaluation and positive self-talk
Embracing failure and mistakes teaches children to work harder, so try not to save your child from every misstep he encounters. To motivate kids to work harder, they need to first be allowed to attempt challenges and makes mistakes. Allow them to feel and teach them how to process emotions, and that even frustration can be motivated to do better. Only after that can they start to learn to evaluate what went wrong and how they can improve or change the outcome when they try it again.
Set your child’s age-appropriate level of expectations
Just because your child is stringing words at 18 months doesn’t mean he has reached his full potential. Treat your children according to their age and not their skill level. If your little one’s actions weren’t what you expected, there’s no need to say, “it’s okay,” or make an excuse about it. Just remember to be constructive and positive.
Refrain from using labels
Labeling a child as gifted, smart, advanced, or talented can also indirectly put them in a box and trains them to think with a fixed mindset. Encourage reasonable risk-taking. Let your child try something new and explore outside of stereotypes and support him in whatever new endeavors they want to embark on.
Encourage collaborative peer group learning
Children learn best when they are interested in a topic and are discussing it with their peers. This is where playdates can be useful. Let them resolve any issue before you swoop in to moderate. For older kids, remind kids that the goal is not to get a correct answer or a higher score but to fully understand the topic.
Be a role model for a growth mindset
Young kids are sponges, and they absorb what they see their parents and caregivers do than what they are told. Be aware of how you encounter setbacks and how you work moving forward. Your child will sense how you deal with mistakes and will more likely copy it.