Encouraging a Growth Mindset in your Child

Written by Gabrielle Nash from Families magazine

Children are like sponges, aren’t they? They soak up every new thing, whether it’s a new word or the latest trend. But are they learning new things in the right way? You may not have given it much thought, but the way we speak to our children can have a huge impact on how they learn.

If you’re new to the phrase ‘growth mindset,’ don’t be put off. This simple concept could help both you and your child. Developed by Carol Dweck, an American Professor of Psychology, the ‘growth mindset’ ethos has become increasingly popular in schools globally. Dweck believed that by changing their ‘mindset’ anyone (children included) could increase their abilities and improve their intelligence solely through dedication and hard work.

Many of us battle with a ‘fixed mindset.’ For example, the belief that if we aren’t naturally good at languages, that won’t change and therefore we shouldn’t try to learn them. But by shifting to a ‘growth mindset,’ we can actually motivate ourselves to succeed.

In the last 10 years more and more schools have embraced the theory of growth mindset into their teaching ethos, not placing so much focus on the natural gifts children have but instead focussing on the work they put in.

Integral to a growth mindset is the understanding that making mistakes is okay. It’s natural to encounter challenges and make mistakes when learning so many new things. However, failure can sometimes dent a child’s confidence. By embracing mistakes and failures, teachers can give children the reassurance that it’s okay to struggle, rather than the idea that mistakes and failings are wrong.

Growth mindset means praising a child for effort and not natural talent. Teachers can adjust how they give feedback to motivate a child to continue to work hard. If a child does an impressive painting, instead of praising the child’s natural talent, the teacher can instead praise the effort, process and commitment put into creating that painting. A child that is praised solely for their natural ability may not believe that to be attainable again, so may not try. Yet a child who gets noticed for the effort they put in will feel able to repeat that success.

Tom Dobson, an education expert at Leeds Beckett University says encouraging children to take an active role in self-assessment is key to using a growth mindset in schools. “Rather than the teacher telling children what they have achieved and what they now need to achieve, what we call “assessment for learning” can promote independence in pupils as they become aware of their own next steps for progress.”

A growth mindset can be used at home too. There’s a tendency in modern parenting towards over-praising children, to protect them and their precious self-esteem. While it is important to be positive, the growth mindset theory suggests that instead of heaping praise at every opportunity, we should rephrase the praise to encourage development.

Encourage your child to talk about the struggles they encountered today. Getting them to understand that it’s okay to find a task or activity tricky is central to having a growth mindset because that’s how we learn.

We exercise our bodies but what about our brains? Encourage your children to see their brain as a muscle that needs exercising; the more they use it the stronger it becomes. Refer to the different things they learn as light bulbs; each time they learn a new skill, they turn on a new lightbulb. Each time they practice it, the light bulb gets bigger and brighter. All of which contribute to a stronger brain.

When your child is struggling with something, whether it’s a physical or mental task, try to motivate them to not give up. The mantra “try, try and try again” really can have incredible results. Not only does this develop their growth mindset but it also builds resilience, something so vital for the grown-up world.

Don’t forget though, this isn’t just for your children. If you’re facing a challenge whether at home or work, try applying some of these principles to it. You might surprise yourself whilst setting a great example for your kids at the same time! 

For more parenting tips and advice, read Gabrielle’s blog @thelondonishmum – with thanks to Families Magazine for the contribution, this article was originally published in their print magazine. You can read the latest article here

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