At the start of this academic year my children’s school started talking about how they were working on promoting a growth mindset in the children, in line with the school’s ethos of helping every child to achieve success.
I hadn’t really heard the term ‘growth mindset’ before, so went off and did some reading into it. I found the whole idea really interesting, but then didn’t really think much more about it because, honestly, it didn’t seem all that relevant to my children at the time.
Recently though, I’ve noticed that Rhys is struggling at times with feelings of frustration when he can’t do something.
He seems to have a bit of a fixed mindset, that tells him that he simply can’t do something. So we’re working on changing that mindset to a growth one. Working on teaching him that with work and practice and effort he may well be able to do the things he can’t do on his first try.
If you’re finding that your child seems to have a fixed mindset about some things, here are five ways you can help to encourage a growth mindset instead.
1. Talk to them about how our brains work, and explain the difference between a fixed mindset and a growth mindset
Explain to your child that our brains form new pathways every time we try or learn something new. And it takes time and repeated tries at something for those pathways to get more established and for us to then get better at the thing we’re trying to do.
Once they understand this, they should also then start to understand that we can’t expect to be good at everything we try, the first time we try it.
From there you can then explain to them that a fixed mindset will stop us ever being great at things that don’t come naturally to us. If we try something once, find it hard and think ‘I’m no good at this’, then we never give the new pathways in our brains a chance to take root.
On the other hand, if we have a growth mindset and think about ways we can practice and work on the thing we find hard, then the pathways will strengthen and we will improve.
2. Don’t just focus on results
When our children do well on a test, or get all of their homework questions right then the temptation is to congratulate them on those results. We so often want to tell them, “you’re so clever”, or “you’re so good at maths”, but this might not be the best approach to take.
This type of praise can actually promote a fixed mindset, because it tells them that ‘being clever’ is a trait that they have, and so isn’t something they can actually control.
Instead we should be looking to praise the effort that they put in to achieve the results they got, and the way they approached the challenge.
Talking about the things they did to get the results puts the focus on things that they can control, like how hard they work, how many times they practice the skill and how they go about getting help if they’re struggling.
3. Take away the fear of failure
One of the big reasons we all have for not trying new or hard things is because we’re so worried about making mistakes and failing.
If we can take away that fear of failure for our children they’ll be much more willing to give things a go, and keep trying when they do get it wrong.
What we need to teach our children is that mistakes and failures are really important parts of learning. And that it’s not a bad thing to get something wrong, it just helps us learn from a situation and improve for next time.
4. Model the behaviour you want to teach them
Our children are constantly watching us and learning from the way we behave. I think the behaviour we model in front of our children can be much more powerful than the words we say directly to them when we’re trying to teach them how to act.
So let them see you struggle with new challenges.
Let them know that some things are hard for you at first.
And talk to them about the strategies you use to figure it out. The hours of practice you put in to get good at something.
Model an attitude of effort and persistence for them to learn from.
5. Teach them the magic word
When it comes to developing a growth mindset, there is one magic word that can make a huge difference.
Added on to the end of a sentence it can change everything.
You go from “I can’t do it” to “I can’t do it … yet” and that is incredibly powerful.
It’s telling yourself that maybe you can’t do it at the moment, but that doesn’t mean you never will be able to do it.
A few weeks ago Rhys had a bit of a hard time at his swimming lesson.
He is struggling to come up for a breath and then carry on smoothly with his breast stroke. After his lesson I asked him what had made him upset during his lesson and he told me “I can’t do it”.
And we talked about how he really means, “I can’t do it yet”.
I reminded him of how far he’s come with his swimming since he started his lessons. How in the beginning he couldn’t swim at all, and he had to have armbands to keep him afloat. And now, with time and practice and perseverance he can swim so well.
I think he understood, and seemed to feel a bit better by the end of our chat. It did make me a lot more aware of this whole growth mindset thing though, and it’s something I’ll be much more active in promoting in him (and Nerys) from now on.
It’s been a pretty good reminder for me too, to keep a watchful eye on my own mindset when things are hard.
Are you aware of this idea of having a growth mindset? Is it something you actively promote in your children?