Helping Your Child Develop a Growth Mindset

by ParentCo. April 30, 2016

Young boy doing his school homework with his father.

One of the most important attributes in children and adults is the ability to form hope. To live without hope is to live without joy, peace and happiness.

Everyone should be familiar with the definition of hope. But the origins of hope are more complex to distinguish. Subconcepts of hope are optimism, a belief in oneself, and self confidence. One can hope to win the lottery or have exterior circumstances fall in your favor, but true hope is the perception that you can change the course of an outcome based on your skills, knowledge and abilities. In order to attain this true belief in oneself, a growth mindset needs to be developed. There are two types of mindsets—fixed and growth. A fixed mindset is the belief that one’s abilities and attributes are natural and relatively unchanging. It is a belief that we are born with a certain amount of skills and intellect and those stay with us for life at roughly the same level. A growth mindset is the belief that skills, talents, and intellect can change and improve over time. There are varying degrees between these two types of mindsets. But the more one moves to the growth mindset side, the more apt the person is to believe that hard work, perseverance, dedication, effort, and time dedicated to a craft or subject, will produce more proficiency. How do we, as parents, help our children develop healthy growth mindsets? We can begin by emphasizing the importance of the process as opposed to the outcomes. We need to pay attention to our language, which innocently enough, can lead to a fixed mindset if not used carefully. How many of us have told our children that they were so smart when they received an A on a test? This is not a bad thing of course because children need to be self confident and have a belief that they are smart. But what happens when the same child brings home a D on the next test? If the outcome is always an indicator of how smart they are, bringing home a D makes them feel they are not so smart after all. Instead, when a child brings home an A, if we focus on their effort, the time dedicated to studying, and the perseverance to push through things like fatigue, boredom, or distractions, they begin to see the importance of the process instead of their natural abilities. Likewise when the child brings home a D, their self confidence is not rattled to the core because they know they could have done better if they applied themselves more. If a child has a fixed mindset, he or she will avoid challenges because failures will indicate they do not have the capabilities to succeed. I’ve failed, so I must not be good at whatever the task is at hand. So they are not motivated to try again as this will be more proof of their limited capabilities. With a growth mindset, a child will be more willing to try new things as it is not an inditement on their talents. Furthermore, the chid will tend to persevere with the task or activity as they have a belief they can improve their abilities. Another strategy parents can use to help their children develop a growth mindset is to role model this effort and perseverance. Start a hobby with your child and let him or her see that you can really stink at something in the beginning and improve over time. Help him or her through this hobby so you can both improve together. Hobbies could be activities such as cooking, camping, fishing, arts and crafts, photography, sports, woodworking, chess, etc. Yes, children tend to have more natural abilities in certain areas than others. So it may help if you start with a craft your child shows an inherent aptitude for and interest in. But remain focused on the effort and work put toward the activity. Then explore more activities outside of the child’s comfort zone and continue the development of incremental successes. Support and encouragement are also key ingredients to helping a child develop a growth mindset. Challenging and “pushing” the child are also OK if the challenge is focused on the effort and dedication. But support and encouragement are key to developing the child’s belief that he or she can be successful. Share examples of your past where you had to overcome obstacles and hardships. Share your failures with your child so they know failures are a part of life and they don’t make a person bad or unloveable. Share examples of famous people who have had to overcome setbacks and adversity to be successful. We all enjoy giving and receiving gifts, and one of the greatest gifts we can give to our children is the ability for them to believe in themselves.



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