Mindsets shape how children perceive themselves and the world around them. They influence how they think, feel and behave and can have a pivotal role in their successes (and failures). This isn’t a new concept. American psychologist Carol Dweck is well-known and respected for her mindset research and theories. According to Dweck, children tend to develop either a fixed or growth mindset.
Children with fixed mindsets believe their abilities are fixed traits and cannot be improved no matter how hard they try. They believe they either have the talent/skill, or they don’t. Children with growth mindsets, on the other hand, believe their talents and abilities can be cultivated through hard work and dedication.
For example, imagine your son is learning how to ride a bike. Before he can find his balance to pedal down the sidewalk, he topples over. Does he get back up and try again? Or does he stomp away frustrated that he isn’t able to ride the bike? Is he willing to learn from his failure or does he shy away from the challenge? His reaction exposes his mindset.
Research suggests that children with a growth mindset perform better in school, have higher self-esteem and are more social. A growth mindset helps kids reframe their approach to challenges and stay motivated to learn and grow. It’s the difference between, “I can’t do this” and “I can’t do this, YET.”
Most children are not born with a growth mindset. Like kindness and empathy, a growth mindset is a social emotional skill that needs to be nurtured and developed. Here are a few ways to nurture a growth mindset in your children:
When you introduce the concept of a fixed and growth mindset at an early age, kids can begin to recognize the mindsets in story characters, others and even themselves. Children’s books can present excellent opportunities for kids to see growth and fixed mindsets in action. For example, when reading Guion The Lion, they may notice the difference between Guion’s mindset and Rae’s mindset.
Change the way they think, and you can change the way they approach challenges. Teach them how to replace negative thoughts with more positive ones to build a growth mindset. For instance, use that magic word, “YET.” When they say ‘I can’t do it,’ encourage them to replace this with, “I can’t do it YET.” Keep doing this and soon they will learn to do this for themselves. Positive self-talk is a powerful thing!
Be very intentional and specific about your praise. Instead of praising your children for making “As,” praise them for how they studied for the test to earn the grade. This “process praise” reinforces that successes are due to effort (which the child can control) rather than some fixed level of talent or skill.
There will be times when they put in the effort but don’t do so well. Talk about how making mistakes is the best way to learn and grow. Compliment their effort, point out what they can learn from the failure, and encourage them to try again. This will nurture their confidence and motivate them to keep trying!
Finally, give your kids the permission to mess up, make mistakes and just flat out fail. Re-emphasize that failure should not be feared since it is the best way to learn, and this will take the anxiety and fear out of learning.
Dweck summarized it this way, “If parents want to give their children a gift, the best thing they can do is to teach their children to love challenges, be intrigued by mistakes, enjoy effort, and keep on learning. That way, their children don’t have to be slaves of praise. They will have a lifelong way to build and repair their own confidence.”
I most certainly believe in the power of a growth mindset. And it’s one of the themes in Guion The Lion. My vision for the book is to not only present children with a message of empathy, but also curiosity and adventure to encourage a growth mindset.