For too long, there was a common assumption that intelligence is fixed, immutable, and unchangeable. This resulted in an education system that largely focused on praising those at the “top” of the ladder, and failing to push children to achieve their full potential.
In recent years, however, the theory has changed. An increasing body of research has uncovered evidence that far from being static and unchanging, intelligence and curiosity are quite the opposite.
This introduced the term “growth mindset” – a dynamic, evolving attitude that encourages learners to grab hold of their education, and push their potential to an increasingly higher limit.
Whether you are an educator or a parent, teaching the growth mindset to kids means equipping them with one of the most valuable weapons available: belief in themselves, their ability, and their potential.
What Is Growth Mindset?
In the simplest terms, a growth mindset refers to a way of solving problems, and a new way of viewing the challenges and setbacks that occur in everyday life. A quote by Winston Churchill sums up the concept in a few words: “Success is not final; failure is not fatal. It is the courage to continue that counts.”
With a growth mindset, learners are encouraged to switch their thinking when they are faced with a challenge – they believe that even if they lack or struggle with a skill at a particular time, they can improve over time, as long as they are willing to put the work in.
Ultimately, the goal is to see opportunities instead of obstacles. Any failure is a fresh chance to try and stretch and develop your abilities, pushing what you can do to the absolute limits, rather than accepting restrictions and limitations.
This is the opposite of a fixed mindset, which states that intelligence and ability are fixed – that is, you are unable to improve your skills or abilities, no matter how hard you try, work or study.
The notion is based on scientific evidence, which demonstrates that our abilities, intelligence, and talents continue to grow and develop all through our lives – they do not automatically stop when we reach adulthood.
Psychologist Eric Ericsson described how every human being goes through a number of stages of development in the course of their lives, and each of these stages will be defined by a challenge. This challenge then needs to be overcome before you are able to successfully continue to the next stage.
As we grow from childhood, however, there is a tendency to change and alter our perspective, and we start to limit ourselves – rather than assume that we can enjoy ongoing growth and development throughout our lives, we instead make ourselves “static”, limiting the amount that we can learn and grow.
The goal of building and developing a growth mindset is to break out of this static state, achieving our full potential and encouraging our children to do the same.
The theory of growth mindsets emerged from research undertaken by education professional Carol Dweck, an academic at Stanford University, specializing in human motivation, psychology, and science.
During the course of her research, she observed a major difference between the approach to failure and success in different students. Intrigued by this, Dr. Dweck started to research the reasons and motivations behind these differing opinions, and this resulted in her building a theory – the growth mindset, a term which was used to describe those who believe that they can use hard work to achieve their goals.
The theory was primarily focused on helping children to achieve their full potential at school. When applied correctly, this is an amazing way to transform the way your children see and understand learning and their own position and power as learners.
Growth Mindset Versus Fixed Mindset
In order to fully understand and appreciate the growth mindset, it is important to have a good understanding of the opposite concept: fixed mindsets.
This is a notion that forms a large element of the program, but in short, a fixed mindset means that you hold the belief that the talents, abilities, and levels of intelligence you are born with are fixed, unchangeable traits. Put simply: the way you are born is the way you are, and there is no option to change this.
Success, therefore, is simply an affirmation of those inherent traits, and not a reflection of hard work or effort. Similarly, there is no point in putting in the time, energy, and effort to learn new things, as this will not help you to achieve your goals.
According to Dr. Dweck, both growth and fixed mindsets are manifested from a young age, and have a significant impact on the way we approach the world – and, in particular, our attitude to success and failure.
She claims that believing your qualities are stuck, or “carved in stone” creates an urgency to prove yourself over and over”, and that this causes an inherent fear of failure – you are constantly on the back foot, endlessly trying to prove that you are good at those characteristics you do possess.
After all, with a fixed mindset, you are essentially stuck with no way to change them, and so need to prove that you are not deficient in any way.
It also encourages you to stick to what you know, and not risk-taking chances or make mistakes. You are also more likely to see those around you as competition, and find it hard to be happy for their success – this can impact the relationships you are able to form.
|Fixed Mindset Statements||Growth Mindset Statements|
|Intelligence is fixed and static||Intelligence is something that can be developed and improved|
|I want to look smart!||I want to learn something new!|
|Avoids challenges||Embraces and enjoys a challenge|
|Gives up quickly and easily||Keeps trying, even when things are tough|
|Ignores and resents constructive feedback if it is negative||Uses criticism to learn and improve|
|Sees the success of others as a personal threat||Is inspired by the success of others|
|Sees failure as the edge, or limit of their abilities||Sees failure as a chance to grow and evolve|
|Sees the world as limited and pre-determined||Believes that we all enjoy free will|
|Does not believe that effort will help you achieve more||Sees effort as the path to mastery|
|Typically achieve less than their full potential, and this is usually early in life||Enjoys higher levels of achievement throughout life|
How Does Growth Mindset Benefit Children?
Learning how to develop and cultivate a growth mindset is hugely beneficial, and will shape and transform the beliefs your child holds about effort, intelligence, and the best way to make choices that have a positive impact on their learning.
With a growth mindset, children will believe that they can develop and grow their intelligence, and perceive their classroom as a place to develop and hone their skills, seeing the challenges they face as an opportunity to grow and develop.
Learning for learning’s sake becomes a valuable way to spend time, and they will see the value in the knowledge that they are unlocking.
With a fixed mindset, however, children will see school merely as a place where their talents, skills, and abilities are tested and evaluated. They will learn how to “look smart” rather than actually learn, including memorizing and repeating ideas and phrases in parrot fashion.
As they will not believe that they can change or improve their intelligence, they will see little point in making a real effort – after all, they argue, working hard won’t make them any smarter.
They will also see any mistakes that they make as proof of their lack of knowledge or intelligence, rather than as a chance to learn and discover something new.
4 Week Guide
Teaching your kids a growth mindset can be a challenge – the overall goal is to overhaul and transform the way that they see and understand their own education, attitude to learning, and, to some extent, their own abilities.
A growth mindset is something that we are all born with – every baby is curious and excited to learn more about the world around them and believes that there is always something new to discover. Along the way, however, this can be easily lost – even at a very young age.
The goal is to recreate that sense of wonder from babyhood, and the easiest way to do this is to break down the concept into four main, overarching steps.
Over the course of a four-week program, you will learn the best way to introduce, teach and embed a growth mindset for your children in a steady, easy-to-follow fashion that will help them make a permanent change to the way they learn about, enjoy, and understand the world around them.
There are four main sections to the program: the first is the introduction. This looks at what constitutes a growth mindset, and the difference between this and a fixed mindset. The introduction is crucial in helping your child to understand just what a mindset is, how it can impact their life and learning, and why this is important.
In the second week, we will move to being able to notice and appreciate a growth mindset, preparing your child to be able to cultivate this as a natural response. Week three looks at the ways in which you can model a growth mindset to your children, and the ways in which you can make the most of the word “yet”.
The fourth and final week looks at the best ways to implement the growth mindset into your everyday life, and the best ways to practice it.
By the end of the program, your children will be able to describe a growth mindset, as well as explore the ways in which it differs from a fixed mindset. They will also have an understanding of how it can help them in their learning and everyday life, and implement a range of tools and techniques to ensure that they automatically gravitate towards a growth mindset.
For best results, it is a good idea to work through this program week by week, as each stage is designed to build upon the previous one.
Week 1: Introduction
The first week is all about introducing the growth mindset to your child, and this starts with introducing the concept of mindset, helping them to understand what it is, how it can be altered, and the two types of mindset: growth and fixed.
Every person on the planet has their own way of seeing things – and this is known as their “mindset”. This allows us to choose the way in which we see the world, and see life – we can choose to feel strong, confident, and capable, or we can feel trapped and frustrated.
If we have a growth mindset, we will know that hard work allows us to get better and improve at things. We understand that the mistakes we make help us to learn and grow, and appreciate the value of “I can’t do that…yet”. If we have a fixed mindset, however, we feel as though we can never get better or improve, and will remain stuck.
Understanding what a mindset is, and the difference between a growth and fixed mindset is crucial for moving forward. This phase is important for building a strong, solid foundation – how can you expect your child to alter their mindset if they don’t truly understand what it is? There are a few key questions to consider here, and you should explore these with your child.:
- What does it mean to grow? What kinds of things grow? Ask your children to consider all of the things that they know about growth, for example, that living things grow, including plants, animals, and people – they are growing all the time! Look at the word grow – what does it mean? Does it mean to change, adapt, develop, mature, or all of the above? Explain that even your brain can grow.
- What do you think “Mindset” means? Ask for their ideas, and explain that our “mindset” is the way that our brain thinks about and understands the things we do. This can be positive if we are excited about going to the park, or negative if we are worried about visiting the dentist. Explain that our mindset also helps us to analyze and handle mistakes and problems in a positive way, seeing them as exciting challenges rather than fixed obstacles.
- Combine the words: “Growth “ and “Mindset”. What could this mean? Explain how a growth mindset means that you believe in your own power, and believe in your brain. With a growth mindset, you can understand that the more you try and tackle difficult things, the more your skills, abilities and knowledge grow. So, with a growth mindset, we know that trying hard at something will help us to get better at it if we keep trying, even when things are hard.
- Explore the word “fixed”. This is the opposite of growth, so what does it mean to have a fixed mindset, instead of a growth one? Explain how a fixed mindset means that you believe that no matter how hard you try or practice, you simply will not get better at things. What are some of the signs of a fixed mindset? Suggest that when we want to give up or quit, or when we decide that we are bad at something, we are using a fixed mindset.
- Let’s think about our brain – did you know that our brain can grow and expand when we try new things? The first time we try to learn a new thing will be the hardest. As with any muscle, however, how the brain will get stronger every time we repeat the new thing until we learn how to do it.
Try some reflection – take the time to share a personal story, talking about a time when you were stuck and had to work hard to overcome a challenge. Then, ask your child or children to share a similar example.
Week 2: Noticing
Once you have successfully introduced the idea of a growth mindset, the next phase is to encourage your child or children to start to notice a growth mindset in themselves and others. This will help them to understand what they are working towards, and to acknowledge a growth mindset when they see one.
Before introducing the idea of noticing a growth mindset, it is a good idea to recap the learning from the previous week – remind ourselves about what a growth mindset is, the ways in which our brains can grow and expand as we learn new things, and how a fixed mindset can hold us back from achieving our full potential.
Once the learner has the idea of a growth mindset well established in their understanding, it is time to start discussing the best way to notice when you are in a growth mindset. You could consider the following questions:
- Have you noticed a time over the last few days when you had a growth mindset?
- Did you feel your brain growing and expanding?
- Have you had a time in the last few days when you felt stuck and trapped? How did you respond? By asking for specific examples here, you can help to bring the concept to life more effectively.
- Can you think of any phrases that might indicate a fixed mindset? For example “I can’t do anything right” or “I am no good at this” or “I can’t do this”. Make sure that you write these down as you think of them.
- Take those phrases, and then create a list of alternatives, this time, choosing words that reflect and represent a growth mindset – “I can’t do this…yet” or “I am no good at this…yet”. How can you turn those fixed statements into ones which better reflect a growth mindset? What is a better way of exploring and looking at a specific, challenging situation? Once again, write the answers to these down.
- Once you have completed the two columns, make sure that this is displayed somewhere where your learner will see it every day. If they start to use a fixed mindset statement, you can remind them of the growth mindset alternatives, and encourage them to think and learn in a new way.
- Make sure that a few minutes each day are set aside to discuss the best ways to help each other if we realize that someone is stuck in a fixed mindset. What tools and techniques can you use to help someone move to a growth mindset instead? Remember – it is all about changing perspective!
Work together to create a list of your favorite television, book, and movie characters, and consider the way that they feel, depending on their mindset. Do they appear to have a fixed or a growth mindset? How is learning and resilience portrayed? What do they do when they are stuck, or facing a challenge – how do they respond?
You can then take a closer look at the tools and techniques that they use, and see if there is any way that you could try to use them in your daily life. Then, whenever you are feeling stuck or frustrated, you can ask yourself – “what would my favorite character do? Would they shift to a growth mindset? How would they solve this problem?”
All of these steps are important – once your child can identify and notice a growth mindset, they will be in a great position to make the most of it.
Week 3: Model It
No matter how well your child grasps and appreciates the concept of a growth mindset, all of your hard work will be for nothing unless you remember one very important thing: you need to make sure that you are practicing what you preach, and putting the growth mindset into action as part of your everyday life.
Ultimately, this will prove to be the difference between your child understanding the idea and concept of a growth mindset, and them actually living it.
The most important thing that you can do here is to share your experiences. If you find something tricky or difficult, do not try to bluff your way through it – be honest with your children and those around you. Share the fixed mindset thoughts you are having, and use the visual aids you created to point out which statements you are using.
Work together to brainstorm the best solutions – how can you transform your mindset? What phrases and statements can you use instead?
It is also a good idea to take some time to discuss the benefits you have seen since you started using a growth mindset, and come up with some words to describe the experience.
- How did you feel when you had a fixed mindset? Did you feel hopeless? Anxious? Sad? Negative? Stress that these tough, negative feelings are totally normal and happen to everyone – the good news is that we have ways to change these to positive feelings. We can use them as clues – if we catch ourselves using the “I can’t” statements, then we can take this as a clue from our minds to transform our perspective, ways of thinking, and attitudes towards a situation.
- How did you feel when you started moving to a growth mindset? Were you content? Happy? Satisfied? Excited to push through challenges? Determined not to give up, even when things were tricky?
- Talk about the importance of setting goals. Why do we set goals? Do they help us to visualize and reach our ideal future? Make the decision to set a personal goal for yourself, and share this with your child – you can even write it up somewhere for everyone to see. Over the week, talk about how you feel – how did you feel at the start of the week? Were you excited? Nervous? Worried that you would not succeed? How can you be sure that you won’t give up? What should you do if you get stuck? By modeling their process, you are helping your children to see it in action, and this is a great way to improve their understanding, moving a growth mindset from a theory to a practical action.
- You can also work to set goals that the children may like to explore. What would they like to do? How can they get there? What happens if they hit an obstacle, or find it too hard and feel like giving up?
To help model a great growth mindset, introduce your children to the “Power of Yet”. This single, simple world is extremely powerful, and can transform a fixed mindset statement into a growth mindset statement, reframing the challenge, and helping your children to understand that they will be able to do this thing soon.
Write down the phrase: “I can’t do this…yet”, and place it somewhere that everyone will be able to see it, and then create your own “action board”.
Take a large piece of paper, and take some time to write down, or even draw, all of the things that you cannot do – yet. Get your kids used to adding “yet” to the end of their sentences, and explain how this can take them from a fixed to a growth mindset.
Week 4: Practice It
In the fourth and final week of the journey, your focus will be on the best ways to implement a growth mindset into everyday life – namely, through plenty of practice!
A large part of this stage involves moving your mindset to praise for perseverance and working hard to solve a problem, rather than automatically moving to offer praise for being “clever” or talented.
Instead, shift the focus so that there is a connection between working hard, and achieving the results that you desire, as opposed to linking achievement of the desired outcome to some fixed, innate ability.
This also helps to reassure children that it is ok to work hard, try and get it wrong, and this encourages healthy, innovative risk-taking.
Take the time to actively encourage productive struggles – make sure that your child or children have time to think through the things that they are finding challenging. Provide them with the space and tools to run through and brainstorm the best possible solutions to their issues, and make sure that they know that they can seek help if they need to.
One of the hardest things for adults to do here is typically to give your children space and time to reflect. There can be an instinctive reaction to jump in and save the day when you see them floundering or struggling, but by offering plenty of time to reflect, you help encourage them to push their limits and come up with new, innovative solutions to their problems.
By the end of the four-week plan, you will have put the foundations in place to help ensure that your children understand the concept of a growth mindset, and are in a position to recognize and understand it.
This does not mean, however, that you are all at the end of your journey. It is important to continue to revisit the concepts and ideas you have learned, and remember some of the core principles of a growth mindset – you can even write these out together and display them somewhere clearly as a source of inspiration. Some of the main “takeaway” points include:
See Challenge As An Opportunity
One of the trickiest elements to get your head around when embracing a growth mindset is that challenges are your friend. Most of us have an inbuilt fear of failure and will do whatever it takes to avoid this.
In order to grow and evolve, however, it is crucial to see your challenges and obstacles as opportunities. Embrace them and experiment with them, take the time to go over mistakes and analyze what went well and what went wrong, and develop the patience to start over time and time again – every time you go back to the beginning, you are still one step closer than you were before!
In a similar vein, it is important to see your imperfections as part of you, rather than weaknesses that need to be pushed away and hidden from. Embrace your imperfections, and consciously take steps to help you handle them, rather than pretending that they don’t exist.
Be Aware Of Your Language
The words that we use hold power, and can reflect our thoughts. Conversely, however, our thoughts can also be heavily influenced by our words – there is a definite correlation between the two concepts.
Focusing on failure, and using language surrounding this, can be detrimental to your self-image and the way you see yourself. A small change, however, such as using “learning” instead of “failure”, changes the way you see the situation. If something doesn’t work out, describe the experience as having learned something, rather than having failed.
Then, analyze what went wrong and where you could improve, and then try again using these techniques and analysis. This reframes the incident in your mind and helps you maintain a positive attitude.
It is also important to enjoy shades of grey in your life – nothing is black or white. It is extremely rare that anything will be totally perfect, and there will be space to improve in pretty much everything you do. This is not a sign of failure – instead, you should see it as a chance to work harder to achieve your goals and improve next time.
Try New Things
A major element of a fixed mindset is relying heavily on the same methods time and again, and these are typically tactics that have been proven to work in the past – this helps to reduce the risk of failure.
In cultivating a growth mindset, you need to be prepared to accept that you may try a method, and it may not work – and that this is ok. Encourage your children to see that just because one method works really well for a friend or classmate, does not mean that it will work for them – and that this is not a reflection on their skills or abilities.
This feeds into the importance of not seeing others as competition – the only competitor you should be worried about is your past self.
Another major element of this is to learn to stop seeking the approval of others in everything you do – instead, encourage your children to value learning for the sake of learning, and to start to appreciate the whole process of learning something new, Make sure that you model this at every opportunity – make a point when you are learning something, and talk about what you are enjoying.
You can also talk about what you are finding challenging, and relate this to your journey, rather than making comparisons to others. What are you going to do to overcome the challenges? What steps do you need to take?
Make sure you focus on your journey, while still being happy for others when they succeed – they can be your inspiration. Remember: blowing out someone else’s candle will not make yours burn any brighter.
Learn About The Process
In some cases, learning about the way in which the process works can also help your children to grasp the concept more completely. Explain that the organic structure of your brain is capable of constantly changing, evolving, and growing, adapting to our experiences and the things around us.
That’s right; our brain can physically alter its structure as it learns new things. This takes time, so remember that growth is far more important than speed – allow yourself the time to make mistakes, learn new things, and do things properly. Give your brain a chance to evolve and change, and you can enjoy life-long benefits and changes.
Set Realistic Goals
Specific, realistic goals are another important aspect of cultivating a growth mindset. This can be a great follow-up activity to complete with your children – all take the time to sit down, think about your goals, and look at the steps you need to take to achieve them.
Write them down, choose a time limit, and be prepared to put plenty of hard work in. Remember: simply setting a goal will not help you to achieve it.
According to Albert Einstein, genius consists of just 1% talent, and 99% hard work. Even in situations where you have a natural gift for something, you still need to be prepared to put in plenty of hard work – and this is the basis of a growth mindset. Hard work always pays off.
Take Time To Reflect
It is also important to cultivate a sense of purpose in everything you do. According to research by Dr. Dweck, those students and pupils with a growth mindset typically enjoy a higher sense of purpose than those who maintain a fixed mindset – they see something outside themselves, and do not focus on low-level rivalries or competitiveness.
There are a few ways in which you can encourage your children or students to reflect – gratitude journals help you to focus on what you are good at, work on your strengths, and enjoy a more positive mindset, and this can take just a few minutes each day.
In addition, journaling, in general, can be a big help – this helps you to reflect on your mistakes and challenges and reframe them as valuable opportunities to grow and evolve.
Change Your Mindset
In a similar vein, you need to retrain your brain to adjust to a whole new mindset. This includes focusing on actions, rather than fixed, inherent traits.
Rather than focusing on the idea that some people are smart, you should instead take a closer look at how you approach problems, the ways in which you learn, and with a genuine, authentic desire to learn more about a topic – simply for the love of learning.
Your reaction to mistakes and criticism can also be important – see these as gifts. Rather than being stuck to keep you down, constructive criticism can instead be an amazing tool to help you build and improve your work and learning.
Encourage your children to embrace and grab hold of criticism – this is invaluable information that helps them grow and evolve to become the very best versions of themselves.
You should also move away from the idea of avoiding risk-taking – no matter who is watching. Try and stop being afraid to mess up and make mistakes in front of others – this is something that absolutely everyone experiences in their life. Teach your children that if you make a mistake, you can laugh it off, learn something, and try again.
Frequently Asked Questions
What Is A Growth Mindset?
A growth mindset believes that intelligence is something that can change, grow and develop, rather than being fixed and inherent.
How Can A Growth Mindset Benefit Your Child?
A growth mindset helps your child to reach their full potential, seeing intelligence and learning as something that is always within their reach as long as they are willing to work hard.
Where Did “Growth Mindset” Originate?
The idea of a growth mindset originated with Stanford academic Carol Dweck, who noted a difference in the way in which students approached challenges and obstacles in their learning.
Developing and cultivating a growth mindset is one of the most powerful tools that you can give to your children. This is not only a tool that can help them to improve their learning, knowledge, and academic success, but it can prove to be a major boost to their wider life and wellbeing.
With a little knowledge, a shift in attitude, and the tools to reframe your thinking, our easy-to-follow four-week course can have a significant difference on the overall wellbeing and happiness of your child, both now, and well into their adult years.
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