“Common sense would suggest that having ability, like being smart, inspires confidence. It does, but only while the going is easy. The deciding factor in life is how you handle setbacks and challenges. People with a growth mindset welcome setbacks with open arms.” – Dr. Travis Bradberry, What is the Best Predictor of Success
My son bounced home from school on his birthday. His teacher had given him the class stuffed animal, Problem-Solver Pat, to take home for the day. Problem-solver Pat came to the park with us. Then, he joined in the family birthday celebration for my son. After dinner, my son opened the class book to draw and write about what he did with Pat. The book fell open to a page featuring a classmate’s beautifully illustrated picture and nice, neat handwriting.
“What nice a nice picture!” I said. “And look how neat the handwriting is.”
I left my son to draw his picture. A few minutes later, I heard my son slam the book on the table and burst into tears.
“I can’t do it!” he wailed.
Unhappy with his picture, he’d given up. I’d made the situation worse by praising his classmate’s picture. He was worried his picture wouldn’t be good enough for me. I needed to get my son to finish his picture and help him strengthen his growth mindset.
Why is a growth mindset important and what did I do to help my son strengthen his? Read on to find out.
What is a Growth Mindset?
- Children with a growth mindset believe that intelligence can be developed. These students see school as a place to develop their abilities and think of challenges as opportunities to grow.
- Children with a fixed mindset believe that intelligence is fixed at birth and doesn’t change or changes very little with practice. These students see school as a place where their abilities are evaluated, they focus on looking smart over learning, and they interpret mistakes are a sign that they lack talent.
Here’s a great video to watch about these two mindsets:
The Importance of a Growth Mindset for Kids
One of the most important things we can do as parents is help our children develop a growth mindset. A growth mindset is a far better predictor of success than academic ability.
When people have a growth mindset they are willing to accept difficult challenges, persist when things get tough, and view mistakes as opportunities to grow. People with growth mindsets become life-long learners continually adding accomplishments to their skill set.
How Do We Encourage a Growth Mindset?
When our children feel like they are good at something, they develop confidence. Confident children are more willing to accept challenges and persist when things get hard.
Help you child develop confidence and self-belief by highlighting his/her strengths.
Ask your child the following questions:
- What are you good at doing?
- What’s your favorite subject in school?
- When do people compliment you? What do they say?
After discussing your child’s strengths, have him/her make a list of strengths or draw a picture of the most important one. Hang it prominently in the house so your child sees it often.
Now look at the things your child finds difficult. Why do they seem difficult? Would more practice help? Ask the following questions to identify a specific challenge to overcome.
- What subject is hard for you at school?
- What do you find difficult about… piano, baseball, gymnastics, etc.?
- When do you find it hard to behave?
- Is there a character trait you’d like to work on – like responsibility or kindness?
Set a Growth Mindset Goal
Once you’ve discussed any challenges your child has, set a goal to work on this challenge.
- What is the goal?
- When will you reasonably accomplish it?
- How will you do it?
Start small, focus on the improvement process, and celebrate the small wins. Be sure to make the goal specific and allow your child to drive the process. A specific goal might be:
I will learn my x8 multiplication tables before the math test next Friday by practicing 10 minutes a day.
Revisit the Goal Each Day
Each day, review the goal with your child. Make note of any progress your child has made. Celebrate the progress. What did your child find difficult? How could he/she work on this? What changes will he/she make tomorrow?
View any progress made as a step forward. Your child is growing. Point this out. Your child is learning to be resilient. Celebrate this.
Other Ways to Encourage a Growth Mindset
Read Biographies of Famous People Who Overcame Challenges
Read child-friendly biographies of famous people who overcame challenges and went on to do great things. People like Ben Franklin, Thomas Edison, J.K. Rowling, George Lucas, etc. Your child will love to hear about how these people tried and failed or had others make fun of them on their journeys. They didn’t give up and eventually did something amazing.
Learn How the Brain Works
Your Fantastic, Elastic Brain: Stretch It, Shape It by Joann Deak, Phd is a great book to share with children. This is one I would definitely recommend for the home library. It was awarded as one of the best growth mindset books for kids.
Your Fantastic, Elastic Brain explains how the brain works in easy to understand language. The illustrations are fantastic. Most importantly, it explains how children stretch their brains when they make mistakes or face fears. Dr. Deak encourages children to become neurosculptors and help their brains grow by learning new things through effort and practice.
The following picture books are also good for helping children understand a growth mindset: The Girl Who Never Made Mistakes, I Can’t Do That YET, The Most Magnificent Thing, and Bubble Gum Brain. You can find these at the library.
However, Your Fantastic, Elastic Brain will be a powerful tool in your growth mindset library. I encourage you to check it out!
What I Did With My Son
After my son’s frustrated outburst, I took him back to the kitchen table and opened the class book. We looked through all the other pages together. I apologized for only showing him the best picture. Many pages showed messy writing and kindergarten drawing. We giggled at some of the attempts to draw Problem-solver Pat, but also pointed out some things the children did well.
I explained that most adults draw well because they’ve had so many years to practice. Then, I pulled out my son’s preschool scrapbook and showed him a few of his old pictures. He realized then how much he’s improved in a year.
My son started to feel better. He knew he could draw as well as or better than many of the other children in the class. He was certainly better than he was last year. I helped my son erase his mistake and got him a drink of water. We brainstormed ideas for his new picture together. When he was ready, I sat by his side and let him get back to work.
I’m sure there’ll be plenty more opportunities to help my son strengthen his growth mindset, but since we both know how important it is, we’ll keep working on it.
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