As a new parent, you may have heard about the importance of instilling a growth mindset in your child. If you get it right, a growth mindset can be a powerful thing. A recent study even showed it can even counter the effects of poverty on academic achievement.
But for many parents, the question is when do you go about helping your child with their mindset? And how? Surprisingly, you can start from birth! Here are our top tips on how to do just that.
Before you continue, we thought you might like to download our FREE Your Words Matter Volume 2 Kit. With these 10 one-page parenting guides, you will know exactly how to speak to your child to help them stand up for themselves, be more confident, and develop a growth mindset.
Be the learner you want to see
If you are convinced of the benefits of a growth mindset, then you should be working on your own. Embarking on the same journey as your child will give you insight into and empathy for the process.
As your child grows, let them see you making mistakes and enjoy learning new things. Children can often view adults as infallible, invincible beings. Making errors in front of them will show your child that it is normal and human to be imperfect.
Consider how you react to these mistakes, too. Research shows that how a parent views failure affects their child’s thinking. There is a link between parents who saw failure as a positive step and children with a growth mindset.
Babies are naturally interested in the world and everything is new to them. This curiosity and the desire to explore are key attributes of an engaged learner. Help your baby to follow these instincts and keep them as they grow. Expose your child to new experiences and delight in them together.
We all benefit from having our senses stimulated, and this is especially true for young children. For instance, when you take your 6-month-old to the park, let them feel the grass with their bare feet and hands. Lay or sit them in different positions to see the trees, the sky, and the older children playing. Run your hands through the leaves so your baby can hear the sound. Hold them so they can smell the flowers.
At home, you can still explore new worlds with your baby. Fill a tray with water and a few little pots and tubes and let your 1-year-old play. Do this in the kitchen or bathroom with a naked baby to minimize mopping up. You can also have messy play sessions with a tray of mud, Play-Doh, or cornstarch and water.
We all want our kids to be confident and to know how much we love them. It’s easy to fall into the habit of enthusiastically praising everything they do. While this might seem like a positive thing, it may be doing more harm than good.
One study found that inflated praise from parents leads children with low self-esteem to avoid taking on challenges. And if we don’t tackle challenges, we don’t learn. Repeatedly hearing, "you’re so clever" or "you’re so amazing at math" promotes a fixed mindset in children. They then shy away from experiences that might shatter this belief and find failures overwhelming.
When you want to praise your child, get specific. Rather than a generic "great job," look at what they actually did. Are you proud that they didn’t give up? Did they use their problem-solving skills to find a way to achieve what they wanted? Maybe they identified exactly what they needed help with and asked for it.
Celebrate the skills they are using as a learner. You may think it feels crazy to say these things to a baby, and you’re not exactly wrong. I’ve done this with my own son and definitely sounded more than a little odd!
It can feel a bit extra to say, "I love how you tried different ways to reach the octopus" to a 4-month-old batting at dangling toys on a playmat. But the idea is, if you get in the habit of praising in this way now, it will become second nature to you as they grow. Once they start understanding the words you are using, you will already be an expert praiser-of-growth-mindset!
Mistakes are part of learning. If a task isn’t hard, we aren’t learning. Think of your brain like a muscle. If you go to the gym and lift a 1lb weight every time, you won’t improve your strength. It's too easy for you. Your trainer will tell you to choose a weight that’s at the very top end of what you can achieve. It will be hard at first, but your muscle strength will grow in response to the challenge.
Using your brain to do new and tricky things works in the same way. New connections are formed between neurons. As you practice, these connections are strengthened. To use another metaphor, the first time you head into the jungle, it’s overgrown and you might need to use a machete. The more times you tread this path, the clearer and easier it gets. The way the brain grows these connections is called neuroplasticity.
Understanding that mistakes aren’t something to be afraid of will help your child. Children with a growth mindset are better at bouncing back from mistakes. This will help them at school, but you can start when they are a baby.
From dropping toys to missing their mouth with some food to their stumbling first steps, a baby’s life is full of trying and failing. Instead of dismay or panic, think about how you can react to these.
An "oops" and a smile will let your baby know that their error was not a disaster. Wondering out loud, "should we try again?" and helping them to do so teaches them how to respond to a setback.
It’s difficult to put ourselves in the shoes of someone so helpless. It can be frustrating to have to smile encouragingly for the millionth time when your child makes the same mistake. But it’s worth it! Developing their growth mindset and ability to deal with failure will support their success and well-being throughout school and their lives.
If you need some tips on how to encourage a growth mindset in your child, don't forget to download our FREE Your Words Matter Kit Vol. 2.
Never mind a growth mindset — your child can’t learn anything if you do everything for them. Recently the term "snowplow parenting" has emerged. It describes those moms and dads who go to the ends of the earth to clear away any obstacle their child might face. This does children a huge disservice.
As we’ve learned, taking on challenges, making mistakes, and bouncing back is how we learn. Don’t rob your child of this process.
Encourage independence, exploration, and perseverance by supporting as little as you can.
As long as it’s safe, let your child try things for themselves. Obviously, we don’t want them to independently explore kitchen knives and matches! But we need to allow them to fall and scrape a knee, or drop something and make a mess.
If your young baby is trying to reach for a toy during tummy time, don’t immediately move it closer to them. Be present, be nearby, but just watch. They may cry out in frustration. This is part of the process. You could respond by saying something like "I can see that’s frustrating for you. I’m interested to see what you try next." Ideally, your voice is soothing for them and they will persevere. If they really start working themselves up, they might need a cuddle. You know your own child. Remember: Struggling is not the same as suffering.
Baby-led weaning is a very literal way to avoid spoon-feeding things to your child. Be prepared for a big clean-up job after every meal. And be prepared to be amazed at the way your child's skills progress. Their ability to pick up pieces of fruit, find their mouth, use a spoon, rescue dropped morsels and explore different tastes will rapidly increase.
You will probably be covered in food but will have a lot of valuable practice in sitting back and letting your child do things for themselves.
Take baby steps and enjoy this time
It might feel a little silly to start from birth, but working on a growth mindset now will set your child up for success throughout their life.
However, having a new baby can be overwhelming. Don’t put pressure on yourself to be the perfect mindset coach on top of everything else. Even introducing just a few phrases or reframing how you think about learning and mistakes will make a difference.
Babies are the perfect reminder to us about the struggle of the learning process. Encouraging your child to develop a growth mindset will also help you with your own. Have fun learning together!
Looking for a growth mindset resource for yourself? Check out the Big Life Journal (ages 18-99)! A guided, science-based journal for adults to help you manage your self-sabotaging inner voice and start living fully and joyfully. This motivational, gender-neutral journal is packed with short, practical lessons and easy, thoughtful writing prompts that will help you transform your mindset and become a positive example for your kids.
About the author — Molly ScanlanMolly is a writer, teacher and parent from London, UK. She is passionate about outdoor play, sharing stories and equality. Connect with her on Twitter or her website.