Helping Your Child Develop a Growth Mindset

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.

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.

How skateboarding helps kids develop a growth mindset

Skate culture is super positive and focused on the process of learning. This teaches kids “get better” lessons that encourage a growth mindset.

I  introduced my kid to skateboarding when she was five. At first, I just pushed her around as she sat on my board. Then I let her sit at the end of my board, wearing a bike helmet while I kicked around the driveway.

She loved it. By the time she was six, she wanted to skate on her own. Her mother and I bought her some entry-level gear and spent a few afternoons kicking around empty parking lots as a family.

Skate as a Family

It wasn’t  long until she wanted to learn how to really shred, so we enrolled her in skate camp at Talent, our local indoor skatepark.

(BTW, if your kid wants to skate, I strongly recommend enrolling them at a skate camp. They’ll learn much faster, internalize safety, and have a ton of fun.)

Skateboarding for a Growth Mindset

At Talent, our kid learned two critical life lessons (not including how to tic-tac): with practice, she could get better at anything, and falling down is an unavoidable part of the process.

These “get better” lessons are cornerstones of a “growth mindset;” that is, a mindset that leads one to persist despite lack of obvious talent and despite inevitable setbacks.

In a growth mindset students understand that their talents and abilities can be developed through effort, good teaching and persistence. They don’t necessarily think everyone’s the same or anyone can be Einstein, but they believe everyone can get smarter if they work at it.
—Carol Dweck, author of Mindset, Stanford University

People have talents and strengths, but that’s not the end of the story. In a fixed mindset, “your qualities are carved in stone.” You will never have capabilities beyond the ones you have today.

In a growth mindset, “your basic qualities are things you can cultivate through your efforts…everyone can change and grow through application and experience.”

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I believe that skateboarding is uniquely capable of helping kids develop a growth mindset. Here’s why.

1. Skateboarding accepts that everyone has their own learning pace

“Your basic qualities are things you can cultivate through your efforts…everyone can change and grow through application and experience.” – HBRDo You Have a Growth Mindset?

While our kid mastered riding ramps faster than some of the other kids in her class, those kids were faster to master moves like ollying and jumping.

Seeing other kids slowly master tricks that had previously been impossible for them had a powerful positive influence on my kid. She still can’t ollie, but she can ride the bowl.

Skate Ramp

2. Good effort deserves praise as much or more than outcome

In a Stanford newsletter, Dweck writes:

“One very common thing is that often very brilliant children stop working because they’re praised so often that it’s what they want to live as—brilliant—not as someone who ever makes mistakes. It really stunts their motivation.”

That completely describes my kid. She often masters new tasks faster than her peers, for which she gets ample praise. But when the task gets harder and she starts to make mistakes, her motivation flags.

Skate culture is super positive and focused on the process of learning. Skaters instinctively encourage each other every step of the way. Landing tricks gains praise, but so does crashing.

The only thing that doesn’t gain praise is hanging back. (Though kids that hang back are also encouraged to join in.)


Don’t get me wrong – friendly competition and one-upmanship is part of skate culture. But in my experience – and from what I’ve observed at dozens of skateparks – even the competition maintains a friendly, positive element.

In the New York Times, Dweck says:

“Society is obsessed with the idea of talent and genius and people who are ‘naturals’ with innate ability. People who believe in the power of talent tend not to fulfill their potential because they’re so concerned with looking smart and not making mistakes. But people who believe that talent can be developed are the ones who really push, stretch, confront their own mistakes and learn from them.”

To me, that perfectly describes skate culture.


3. You actually do get better with practice – and failing is part of it

“With a growth mindset, you focus on learning and development rather than failure and actively pursue the types of challenges that will likely lead to both learning and failure.”

Learning to notice one’s progress is an important element of a growth mindset. Skating is one of the first activities where our kid was aware of her progress.

Her coaches also noticed, and gave her positive feedback for getting better and better.

Now when we talk about moving forward through setbacks at school, or in other pursuits like baseball and skiing, we still refer to how she learned to skateboard despite wiping out many times.


Two other non-growth mindset values from skating…

Skate like a Girl

Skating reassured my kid that girls are as cool and capable as boys.

Before she started to skate, she was very bothered that men and women play in different professional sports leagues. To her, this could only mean that men were better than women at sports. While her mother and I tried to explain that men and women have different bodies and, therefore, play in different ways, she wasn’t convinced.

Skating, however, showed her that not only could girls keep up with boys, they could also completely match them. It helped that one of her favorite coaches was a woman.

Skating Success

A sense of shared culture

Skating wasn’t cool when I was a kid. In fact, being seen with a skateboard could get you beat up by townies, rednecks and even some of the jocks (always a bunch of beefy kids in a pickup truck).

Back then, low-grade persecution led to a sense of community among us skaters. Today, skateboarding is considered cool, and it’s fully part of American culture. But that earlier sense of community lives on in skater culture.

Skating provides an increasingly rare sense of belonging for kids.

Here’s my kid, showing us how to drop in:

Every parent should see these 5 TED Talks on education

Why are we still running schools the same way we did fifty years ago?

This is the question students, teachers, parents, and researchers now wrestle with in the 21st century.

According to the U.S. Department of Education, over 1.2 million students drop out of high school in the United States every year. That’s a student every 26 seconds – or 7,000 a day.

Even college graduates face challenging odds. Harvard professor Tony Wagner claims half of all recent college graduates are either unemployed or underemployed, and one-third are living at home.

Fortunately, there are some solutions.

Here are five TED Talks every parent should see to understand the most current brain research, psychological studies, and tried-and-true tested methods to improve education.

The Key to Success? Grit by Angela Duckworth

Angela Duckworth is a psychologist, educator, and former management consultant. She’s dedicated much of her research to understanding which factors lead to success in school and the work place.

Duckworth says the answer is grit and “living life like it’s a marathon, not a sprint.”

The Power of Belief – Mindset and Success by Eduardo Briceño

Eduardo Briceño is co-founder and CEO of Mindset Works, an organization that helps schools and other organizations foster a growth mindset culture.

His talk refers to brain research and studies conducted by Stanford professor Carol Dweck that show the way we understand intelligence and abilities impacts our success in school, relationships, sports, the arts, and the work place.

The Myth of Average by Todd Rose

Todd Rose is a high school drop out turned Harvard professor. He’s also co-founder and president of Project Variability, an organization dedicated to supporting individualized and personal learning.

Rose points out the problem is that we’re still running schools today the way we did 50 years ago. Schools were designed for the average learner, and therefore designed for nobody. He challenges schools to “ban the average” and “design to the edges.”

Danger of the Single Story by Chimamanda Adichie

Chimamanda Adichie is a best-selling author and master storyteller, who divides her time writing and teaching in Nigeria and the United States.

Adichie ponders the problem of telling a single story about a people or culture in media and literature. Stories are incomplete without multiple perspectives, and we should reexamine the stories we share (or fail to share) with children.

 Play, Passion, Purpose by Tony Wagner

Tony Wagner is the founder and co-director of the Change Leadership Group at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. He’s also a former educator and best-selling author.

Wagner challenges us to rethink education in an age where you can Google anything, and it’s not what you can Google, but what you can do with that information that matters. He suggests seven skills all students need to acquire prior to graduation in order to succeed.

“You can’t do it yet. Let’s keep practicing. You will.”


There’s an epidemic in our country. Parents and teachers drop “S” bombs right and left in front of children. The time has come to put a stop to the “S” word – Smart.

Stanford psychology professor Carole Dweck has spent the last four decades studying motivation and learning in children and adults. She’s dedicated her life’s work to understanding how people cope with challenge and difficulty.

Dweck suggests telling kids they’re smart fosters a fixed mindset. Children and adults with a fixed mindset believe intelligence and talent is fixed rather than developed. They spend more time trying to prove over and over again how smart or talented they are, rather than putting in the effort to improve or grow their intelligence or talent.

People with a fixed mindset shut down in the face of challenges or blame other factors when they fail. In Mindsets: The Psychology of Success, Dweck says “praise should deal, not with the child’s personality attributes, but with his efforts and achievements.”

Parents and teachers should not tell children, “You’re so smart!” Instead they should focus on recognizing their effort. Don’t say, “You finished that puzzle! You’re so smart!” Do say, “You finished that puzzle! I’m proud of you for sticking with it until you finished!”

Focusing on effort rather than personality attributes creates a growth mindset. With a growth mindset, brains and ability are a starting point. Talent and intelligence can develop and improve with dedicated practice and effort. People with a growth mindset are more willing to take risks, persist, and develop grit.

A useful phrase I use with my six-year-old and students is “not yet.” I want my daughter and students to learn that failure doesn’t reflect intelligence. Failure is part of the process to learning more and improvement. It’s okay to fail. Everyone fails.

Our daughter couldn’t hit a baseball last spring. We said, “It’s okay. You can’t do it yet. Let’s keep practicing. You will.” Midway through the season she started smacking the ball with her bat. She went from wanting to quit and refusing to bat in her first game to running on the field with joy and not wanting the season to end.

We reference that experience every time she wants to shut down when a task gets difficult. It helps for kids to visualize times they’ve failed and improved. It also helps when parents and teachers tell stories of times when they used a growth mindset and persevered through a challenge.

My students earn a lot of “not yet’s” on quizzes, papers, and assignments. I’ve stopped putting the focus on letter grades and redirecting their attention to effort. An ‘A’ or an ‘F’ doesn’t tell a student about their ability. Students work for ‘A’s’ rather than self-improvement or shut down when they earn ‘F’s.

Now I say, “Your paper isn’t there – YET. Here is what you did well, and here is what you need to work on to get there.” It’s incredible how shifting the focus to effort has changed the attitudes in my classroom. Students understand the concept of growth mindset and know that not everyone will get to the finish line at the same time, but we’ll all get there. We’re all capable of achieving success.

When parents ask me for advice when their students suffer from anxiety or struggle in school, I talk to them about fixed vs. growth mindset. Parents appreciate having a strategy they can use with their kids that will help them in all aspects of their development: academics, sports, the arts, and personal development.

Let’s stop using the “S” word and start praising effort. Let’s stop raising kids to live for “now” instead of “yet.” Start using “not yet” and focus on developing a growth mindset in your kids and yourself. It’s the smart thing to do.

You can learn more about the power of “not yet” in Dweck’s Ted Talk. You can download a free educator’s mindset tool kit here