The term "growth mindset” was first coined by Professor Carol Dweck, who has conducted a lifetime of research into mindsets. A growth mindset is essentially operating on the belief that one’s intelligence can grow - as opposed to a fixed mindset, where one believes their intelligence level is set in stone.
With a fixed mindset we believe that we were born with a static level of ability; this is just our lot in life, and we are powerless to change it. Studies have shown that a person with a fixed mindset is more likely to give up when they come across obstacles or challenges in life, because they don’t believe they are able to develop and grow to overcome the challenge. Effort therefore is often seen as a waste of resources, and criticism is taken badly.
With a growth mindset, a person embraces challenges as a chance to learn and grow. They are more likely to persist in the face of a setback, and will relish the chance to make an effort. Criticism is taken as a chance to learn and develop.
So it seems clear then, that we would want to encourage a growth mindset in our children - and since our children spend a lot of time in school, we would also want them to encourage this.
The good news is that many schools these days are aware of Dweck and her research. Even if they don’t openly discuss the idea of "growth mindset” with pupils it will be something of which staff are aware.
What can we do then, as parents, to encourage our children to have a growth mindset? There are a few simple things we can do.
When our children fail at something and complain they’re not able to do something, we can add "yet” onto the end of the sentence. It’s important to remind our children that the fact they’re not able to do something today doesn’t mean they won’t be able to do it tomorrow or the next day.
Praise is also an important part of fostering a growth mindset. Often as parents we are tempted to say things like "you’re so clever” - but this can actually be damaging. When we say this we attach a child’s worth to their intelligence, leading them to think this is a natural gift or talent over which they have no control - they’re clever enough to pass this test, but perhaps not the next one. Instead, it is a good idea to praise effort and choices a child has made. Saying things like "I love that you worked so hard on this” can help to shift the balance.
When we praise a child for being something we encourage a fixed mindset: you’re clever; you’re smart; you’re sporty. Instead, we can praise them for their actions. This way, the thing for which they are being praised is never a fixed entity.
By encouraging a growth mindset in our children we can help them to grow as people, to embrace challenges and to always continue to grow.