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Helping Your Child Develop a Growth Mindset

When faced with a challenge, children respond in different ways. While some children persist and try harder, others can falter at the slightest possibility of failure. We can motivate children to keep trying by encouraging them to have a growth mindset. A growth mindset is key in fostering resilience in children.

What is a growth mindset?

To understand what a growth mindset is, we can first look at what it means to have a fixed mindset. People with a fixed mindset believe that their abilities and talents cannot be changed in any meaningful way, no matter how hard they try. A child with a fixed mindset may say something like, “I did well on that test because I am clever” or “I am a bad drawer which is why my drawings look bad”.

Conversely, a growth mindset is the belief that our talents and abilities can be improved with hard work, good strategies and help from others. It is the opposite of a fixed mindset. A child with a growth mindset might say “I did well on that test because I worked hard” or “If I keep practicing, my drawings will get better”.

Coined by Stanford professor Carol Dweck, a growth mindset has been linked to a range of positive outcomes. Children with a growth mindset are more open to trying new things, more comfortable with challenge and more persistent when working towards a goal. These children also view failure as an opportunity to learn and are also more likely to ask for help when they need it. This translates to better performance in school and extracurricular activities.

A growth mindset helps kids and their families reframe how they approach challenges. At its core, it is about teaching kids to recognise that things which seem difficult now, like riding a bike or doing maths homework, may not always be that hard. Children with a growth mindset know that learning takes time, perseverance and patience. It is an important which your child will carry on into their adult lives.

Why is a growth mindset helpful?

Research into mindset has found that there are several links between mindset, motivation, achievement and resilience. While children with a fixed mindset are more likely to feel helpless in the face of a setback (Haimovitz, Wormington & Corpus, 2011), those with a growth mindset are more willing to invest more effort and try new strategies when facing a challenge In fact, kids who believe that their abilities can improve are more likely to seek out such challenges, and to see them as learning opportunities (Blackwell, Trzesniewski & Dweck, 2007). Growth mindsets have also been associated with greater academic achievement and most positive self-regulation strategies (Ommundsen, 2003). In terms of motivation, children with a fixed mindset tend to be motivated by a desire to receive positive judgement or avoid negative judgement (Haimovitz, Wormington & Corpus, 2011). In contrast, growth mindset kids are motivated by a desire to learn and master a skill rather than an external reward (Ng, 2018). Fortunately, mindsets are not set in stone and we can encourage children to change how they see their abilities. Teaching children to have a growth mindset has been found to lead to improvement in both motivation and achievement (Yeager et al., 2016). A growth mindset also fosters resilience and self-confidence in children (Yeager & Dweck, 2012)

How can we encourage children to have a growth mindset?

Whether we have a fixed or a growth mindset is not set in stone. We can all learn to take a growth-based approach to challenges. However, teaching your child to think about challenges as an opportunity for growth won’t happen overnight. We can nurture a growth mindset using situations the child faces as examples. We have to put together a few helpful tips for doing so.

  1. Praise effort, not outcome. When your child has reached a goal, or is working on something new, celebrate the accomplishment by talking about the effort that it took to get there and the strategies they used. Praise their efforts regardless of whether the outcome was successful. For example, you might say something like, “Wow, you worked so hard on that painting! I saw that you spent a lot of time mixing all those colours together.” Focus on learning and progress, and the processes which yield these things, such as asking for help, trying new strategies and trying again after failing.

  2. Avoid labelling your child, and others. Whether the label is positive (“You are so clever!”) or negative (“He’s not very good at soccer”), they both communicate a fixed mindset.

  3. Add the magic word. When you child says something like “I can’t read” or “I can’t ride a bike”, use this as an opportunity to teach them about growth mindset. You can do this by simply adding the magic word: yet. These statements then become “I can’t read yet” and “I can’t ride a bike yet”.

  4. Let them know that mistakes are part of learning. When your child tries and fails, tell them that it’s okay and that everyone makes mistakes. If he or she is feeling frustrated, let them know that they can take a break and try again later when they are feeling calmer.

  5. Remind children how far they have come. When your child feels discouraged, gently remind them of the things they can do now which once used to be difficult. Discuss how they have grown and all the practice it took to get there. For example, “When you first learned to walk, you took one step and then fell. But you kept trying and soon you could take two steps, then four, and now you walk and run everywhere!”

Above all, it can be helpful as parents to recognise our own tendencies and notice which mindset, fixed or growth, we tend to employ throughout the challenges we find ourselves dealing with. Our actions are very much on display to our children and in this case, it is best to lead by example. You might also like to share stories about things you found difficult, and how you got better at them.

We hope you found this information helpful, and of course we are always happy to assist children and families in developing stronger growth mindsets in the lives!

For further information around growth mindset, please see the articles listed below that detail the research described above:

Blackwell, L. S., Trzesniewski, K. H., & Dweck, C. S. (2007). Implicit theories of intelligence predict achievement across an adolescent transition: A longitudinal study and an intervention. Child Development, 78(1), 246–263.

Haimovitz, K., Wormington, S. V., & Corpus, J. H. (2011). Dangerous mindsets: How beliefs about intelligence predict motivational change. Learning and Individual Differences, 21,747–752. doi: 10.1016/j.lindif.2011.09.002

Ng, B., (2018). The neuroscience of growth mindset and intrinsic motivation. Brain Sciences, 8(2), 20.

Ommundsen, Y. (2003). Implicit theories of ability and self-regulatory strategies in physical education classes. Journal of Educational Psychology, 23, 141–157. doi:10.1080/01443410303224

Yeager, D.S., & Dweck, C., (2012). Mindsets that promote resilience: When students believe that personal characteristics can be developed. Educational Psychologist, 47(4), 302-314. doi: 10.1080/00461520.2012.722805

Yeager, D. S., Romero, C., Paunesku, D., Hulleman, C. S., Schneider, B., Hinojosa, C., … Dweck, C. S. (2016). Using design thinking to improve psychological interventions: The case of the growth mindset during the transition to high school. Journal of Educational Psychology, 108(3), 374–391. doi:10.1037/edu0000098

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