3 ways parents can instill a growth mindset

(This article is based on Mindsetkit.org,
please go there for more detailed explanation and practical activities that help your child develop a Growth Mindset)

It is often said that students with a growth mindset do better in school. But why? And how can you help your child instill a growth mindset?

What is Growth Mindset?

“A growth mindset is when students understand that their abilities can be developed,” according to Carol Dweck, a psychology professor and one of the world’s leading researchers in the field of human motivation.

People who have a growth mindset believe that intelligence can be developed, while people with a fixed mindset believe that intelligence is a fixed trait. People with a fixed mindset think of intelligence kind of like eye color.

They believe that you’re born with a certain amount of intelligence, and you can’t do much to change that. People with a growth mindset think of intelligence more like a muscle. They understand that when you put in effort and challenge yourself, you can get smarter, just like when you put in effort at the gym and challenge yourself by lifting heavier weights to make your muscles stronger.

Why Growth Mindset is important?

1. Growth mindset leads to better academic performance

Children who understand that the brain can get smarter—who have a growth mindset—do better in school because they have an empowering perspective on learning. They focus on improvement and see effort as a way to build their abilities.

They see failure as a natural part of the learning process. In contrast, students who have a fixed mindset—those who believe that intelligence is fixed—tend to focus on judgment. They’re more concerned with proving that they are smart or hiding that they’re not.  And that means they tend to avoid situations in which they might fail or might have to work hard.

Many studies show that children who have a growth mindset respond differently in challenging situations and do better in school over time. A study with middle school students looked at the impact of fixed versus growth mindsets on achievement in math—a subject that many students find challenging.  Students with a growth mindset earned higher math grades over time compared to students with a fixed mindset.

2. Growth Mindset affects learning from mistakes

A growth mindset focuses students on learning, rather than simply performing well.  You can see this when you look inside the brain. In one study, scientists brought people into the lab.  They put an EEG cap on their heads to measure how active their brains were. While scientists were measuring brain activation, they asked participants a trivia question.  Participants gave their answer, and then the scientists told them if they were right or wrong. In other words, they were given performance feedback. The scientists found that the participants with a growth mindset and with a fixed mindset both had active brains when they were told whether they were right or wrong.  So all participants paid attention to the performance feedback. What’s interesting is what happened next. Participants were told the correct answer. And again, the scientists looked at how active the participants’ brains were. The brains of people with a growth mindset were significantly more active than the brains of people with a fixed mindset.  People with a fixed mindset were tuning out after they found out if they were right or wrong; they weren’t interested in learning the correct answer. At the end of the study, the scientists gave participants a pop quiz with the same trivia questions. Not surprisingly, the people with a growth mindset did better.

3 ways parents can instill a growth mindset

The way parents talk about ability and learning can have powerful effects on their kids’ beliefs.  Below are three ways parents can instill a growth mindset. And remember, developing a growth mindset in yourself and in your kids is a process that takes time.  Have a growth mindset about developing a growth mindset!

#1. Recognize your own mindset: 

Be mindful of your own thinking and of the messages you send with your words and actions.

When parents spend time thinking about their own mindset, most can recognize aspects of both growth mindset and fixed mindset in their own thinking.   Sometimes we might have a fixed mindset about some abilities like math or art but a growth mindset about others. If we want our children to develop a growth mindset, we need to be mindful of our own thinking and of the messages we send with our words and with our actions.  Here are some examples of fixed mindset statements and corresponding growth mindset statements. Think about what messages they send and what messages you want to send with your own words.



I’m dumb. What am I missing?
This is too hard! This will take a lot of effort!
She must be smart. I want to learn her strategies.
I’m naturally good at this. How can I keep improving?

#2. Praise the process: 

Praising kids for being smart suggests that innate talent is the reason for success, while focusing on the process helps them see how their effort leads to success.

Our intuition is often to praise kids when they’re smart, but this kind of praise sends the wrong message.  If our kids are praised for being smart when they understand something quickly, then what will they think when they encounter something hard?  Being praised for intelligence can make kids think, “If my past success made me smart, my current struggle makes me dumb.”

Instead of praising kids for being smart when they understand something quickly, praise them when they work hard to accomplish something difficult.  This tells them that you value hard work, and that hard work is what leads to success.

#3. Model learning from failure: 

When parents talk positively about making mistakes, kids start to think of mistakes as a natural part of the learning process.

Kids learn how to behave by imitating others.  One of the most powerful ways that parents can model the growth mindset is by being willing to fail and eager to learn from setbacks.  When parents talk positively about the mistakes they make or the mistakes their kids make, their kids start to think of mistakes as a natural part of the learning process.  That’s critical for having competence and taking risk to invest themselves in challenging work. It’s also critical for having the self-assurance to calmly reflect on one’s own mistakes instead of trying to sweep them under the rug or blame someone else.

When adults get excited about the learning that mistakes can facilitate, children start to think of mistakes as a natural part of the learning process.  This leads to a few important changes in learning behavior:

  1. Children stop avoiding challenging work just because it could mean making more mistakes.
  2. Children become less likely to try to “sweep mistakes under the rug” because they stop thinking of them as something to be ashamed of.

For example, at the dinner table, talk about a time that you struggled with something and how hard it is and how you overcame it.  Then ask your kids if there’s anything they struggled with, how they overcome it, and what they learned from the experience.

At first, it can be difficult to develop a growth mindset, but it’s worth it because research shows that parents can have a powerful impact on their kids’ mindsets.  Remember that developing a growth mindset in the kids and in yourself is a process. Don’t be discouraged if it doesn’t come easily right away. You will improve by practicing and by learning from your mistakes.  In other words, have a growth mindset about developing a growth mindset.



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