The Parent Classroom Newsletter > The Value of a Growth Mindset
The Value of a Growth Mindset

Sep 7, 2011

THE VALUE OF A GROWTH MINDSET: A New Outlook For a New School Year

Although I am no longer bound by an academic schedule, I still consider September to be the beginning of a new year, full of hope and promise for a fruitful and productive fresh start. By now all of your children have started school and are in various stages of adjusting to their new classrooms and teachers.

Some are taking to it like ducks to water, and some are struggling and still finding their way. As parents entering this new phase, we have all kinds of hopes and dreams for our children and ourselves. We want our kids to learn and enjoy learning; we want them to be happy and to have friends; we want them to develop self-reliance and confidence. We hope to become more calm and patient, to develop systems that make our households more efficient and less stressful, and to experience more loving and intimate family connections.

Sounds like a lot of goals and a tall order. But there is a very simple principle, developed by Carol Dweck, a Stanford researcher and psychologist, which can inform the way we look at these goals and put us in the correct mindset for working on them with ourselves and our children.

Dr. Dweck explains how a person’s mindset or strongly held belief system can profoundly influence behavior. People with a fixed mindset believe that their innate abilities and intelligence are fixed traits. You either can do math or you can’t. You can either make friends or you can’t. With a fixed mindset, there is a reluctance to take on new challenges.

People with a growth mindset, on the other hand, believe that they can learn, change and develop needed skills. They are better equipped to handle setbacks and know that hard work and effort helps them accomplish and learn.

A fixed mindset stops you in your tracks and limits your achievement. A growth mindset opens up possibilities and always offers you opportunities to grow and learn.

So how do we promote a growth mindset in our children?

1. The first step is to take a look at yourself and examine your own belief system.

Do you operate with a fixed mindset, believing that you can never change certain things about yourself….that you weren’t born with this particular ability and can never have it?

I run into this all the time with parents who feel they can never control their reactivity. There is now a powerful and full body of neuroscientific research that tells us that the brain has an amazing ability to learn and form new connections throughout the life span.

It is never too late to learn a growth mindset, and in doing so, you will be able help your children develop this too. Consider these questions:

How would it help me and my children if I developed the belief that I could still learn and grow?
When have I struggled in a particular area and thought I had low ability -- and now can do it well?
In what areas of my life do I have a growth mindset, and in what areas is my mindset fixed?

2. Share the brain research with your children!

Let them know that the brain is a muscle that gets exercised and stronger when they use it to learn. And every time you try something that’s new and hard and unfamiliar, the brain gets stronger and stronger.

The more you work at something, the stronger the brain gets. This is true for learning academic material, or learning to put yourself to sleep, tie shoes, or ride a bike.

3. Focus on the process of learning rather than on achievement and outcome.

Heidi Halvorson, PhD, who writes extensively on the subject of success suggests that we help our kids develop “getting better” goals as opposed to “being good” goals. Being good is about proving how smart you already are; whereas getting better means that you are motivated to learn and persist even when the going gets tough.

Help your children develop this mindset by paying attention to their effort…by reminding them that that it’s exciting and cool to learn something new, even when it is really hard at first…and validating all their endeavors.

A good tip: Have your child add the word “yet” onto every sentence proclaiming his or her inability: “This is hard. I can’t do this….yet.” “I don’t know how to do this….yet.”

4. Break the praise habit.

The jury is in on this one. Extensive research has shown that praise backfires. Being told you are good or great or smart can set up expectations and make it hard to stumble, make mistakes and still persist.

Children do better when they are given feedback about their effort and hard work, the things that are actually within their power to control. For example, “This was so hard to do. But you really stuck with it and have made great progress.”

For younger kids, think of it as painting a picture with your words: “You are sitting at the dinner table and using your fork and spoon. You are really learning table manners.”

Please note: we have all grown up with praise and do praise automatically. You will have to adapt a growth mindset for yourself in regards to relearning this habit!

5. Adopt a positive attitude towards mistakes…..your own or your children’s.

We all learn through our mistakes, and children learn through their interactions with us around their mistakes. M.J. Ryan, the noted "Change Expert" and author of "The Happiness Makeover," makes the point that babies can learn the most difficult of all neurological tasks, walking and talking, because their brains have not yet learned to track failure.

How else would they be able to fall down and get up a million times in the process of learning to walk?

Somewhere along the line, we do begin to track failure. From that point forward mistakes begin to make us feel bad or wrong. Think of mistakes as a learning opportunity and a teaching opportunity. It is definitely the growth mindset approach and can curtail a great deal of pain and suffering for everyone.

Jill Shugart, M.A., MFT - 910 Tulare Ave., Berkeley, CA 94707 - 510-528-0309 -
Ca. Lic.#MFT32528



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