We all want to raise children who have the strength and independence to face life’s challenges. To do this, a child needs to know that they have personal control over events in their life. This sense of control develops over childhood, but children who are encouraged to develop a growth mindset are more likely to learn they have control over their world.
The concept of growth mindset was developed by Carol Dweck in her book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. She studied children’s beliefs about intelligence and their motivation to learn. She found that children with what she called a ‘fixed mindset’ believe their intelligence is fixed, and so will avoid challenges they feel they may not achieve. Those with a ‘growth mindset’ believe intelligence and ability can be developed through hard work. Basically, these children believe people can grow and change, and that effort will result in improvement. Because of this, they are more likely to persist with challenges. Dweck argues that it is not our children’s natural ability or talent which brings success, it is whether they approach the world with a fixed or growth mindset.
Research tells us that praise is closely connected to how our children view their intelligence. If children are constantly praised for being naturally talented or clever, there is a danger they will develop a fixed mindset. Instead, when we praise hard work and effort, it cultivates a growth mindset. So, let’s take some time to think about the importance of language when our children face challenges. If our child says that a task is too hard and that they are giving up, it is an opportunity for us to help them consider other strategies they might use. If they say that they just can’t do something, we can reframe it as a task that may well take some time to learn. If they are upset about making a mistake, we can remind them that mistakes are how we all learn. We need to encourage our children to think of their brain as something that is strengthened with use. We can encourage them to try new things, make mistakes, and try again, knowing that their brains can change and adapt as a result of these different experiences.
Bear in mind, this idea about growth mindset also applies to us as parents! Instead of seeking perfection, adopting a mindset of growth and learning helps us to build connected families. Seeing past our mistakes and our current challenges are like stepping-stones for growth. If we try to see both ourselves and our children as a work in progress, it reminds us that the whole family has potential for growth.
As parents, the challenge for us is to give our children a love of learning, to teach them to put in the effort and face new encounters without fear of failure. This will help them to develop and build their own self-esteem. The mistakes we make as parents along the way help show our children that learning is a lifelong process.