Tips to help your child embrace a growth mindset
By Adina Levitt, Instructor
School can be hard. In fact, challenge is part of the learning process. However, the feeling of struggling can be a turn off for students or make them feel that they are not smart. Whether it is solving a difficult math problem or writing a literary analysis essay, at Engaging Minds we focus on teaching executive function skills to help students overcome these challenges and get the job done. But let’s go one step further. What if a change in mindset could also help students to overcome a challenge? Introducing… the growth mindset.
Stanford Professor and Psychologist Carol Dweck, Ph.D., defines a growth mindset as “the belief that you can develop your talents and abilities through hard work, good strategies, and help from others.” A fixed mindset, on the other hand, “is the belief that talents and abilities are unalterable traits, ones that can never be improved.” Research has shown that a growth mindset benefits students’ motivation, in turn improving their focus, persistence, and academic achievement (Source).
The benefits of having a growth mindset are clear. Here are some tips, supported by Dweck’s research, to help students embrace a growth mindset.
The human brain is malleable or neuroplastic. It’s like a muscle that grows stronger and smarter when cognitive functions – executive functions – are exercised. Therefore, instead of intelligence being innate, intellectual abilities can be developed with repeated practice (Source). For example, when a student first learns long division, it may feel like a slow tedious process. However, with practice, the neural connections in their brain that are required to solve the problem will strengthen, and it will feel more comfortable. Some words of encouragement that embrace a growth mindset are:
- “That feeling of math being hard is your brain growing.”
- “Keep practicing, you’re exercising your brain.”
- “You’re giving your brain exercise so it can grow stronger.”
- “You may not be able to do it YET.”
- “You are capable of learning new things.”
When a mistake occurs, an electrical signal fires in the brain, indicating that learning occurred. The brain is challenged which leads to growth (Source). It’s easy for students to get down on themselves when they get a question incorrect. Try reframing mistakes as a positive and necessary component of the learning process with these words of encouragement:
- “Mistakes are part of learning.”
- “When you make a mistake, you are training your brain so it remembers how to do it next time.”
- “Mistakes help your brain grow stronger.”
Focus on strategies, not effort
Effort is a necessary component in the learning process, but is not enough on its own. Students need to reflect on which strategies worked well and determine a plan of action moving forward. For example, if a student does not do as well as they wanted to on an exam, they may say that they studied really hard, meaning they put in a lot of effort. But learning will only occur when they reflect and determine which studying strategies worked and which they want to try for next time. Instead of telling a student to try harder when they are up against a hard task, offer reflective commentary such as:
- “What worked well for you last time?”
- “What strategy could you try next?”
Model a growth mindset
In addition to providing words of encouragement and asking reflective
questions that support a growth mindset, parents can also model a growth mindset as they face challenges that come their way. For example, when they make a mistake, they can talk aloud the fact that mistakes are a helpful part of the learning process and share how they are going to work through it. They can also share the strategies they used when they approach a task. Lastly, they can use the word “yet” to talk about their own goals.
- “Looks like I drove to soccer practice the wrong way. I guess I haven’t learned the best route there YET.”
- “My first attempt at homemade pie crust didn’t turn out the best, let me try a different technique and see if that helps!
We know our students will face challenges as they move through their academic careers. Embracing a growth mindset may not happen overnight, but with routine encouragement and modeling from parents, teachers, and other adults in their lives, students can see themselves as capable of tackling challenges that come their way, thanks to the power of a growth mindset.