We already know about the magnificent power of teaching children a growth mindset. However, what if you are struggling to teach this to your children or students? You are certainly not alone. It appears that it’s not an easy task and many parents and teachers are facing three similar challenges.
Here’s how to tackle some commonly faced scenarios.
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Struggle 1: You’re Teaching Something You’re Still Learning
As educational concepts go, the theory of growth mindset is still relatively new. While Dr. Carol Dweck’s research began 30 years ago, it wasn’t until 2006 that her Mindset: The New Psychology of Success introduced us to the life-changing idea that attributing success to perseverance rather than innate ability leads to a happier life.
In that sense, all of us are newbies to this incredible shift in thinking. So let’s use our freshman status in growth mindset to our advantage!
Kids are often turned off by our “expert” opinions and find it refreshing when they see adults learn about new topics. In my experience both in the classroom and with my own children, little ones are more engaged when I’m sharing my experiences, especially my struggles.
How to Overcome:
WRITING: Use Big Life Journal (a growth mindset journal for kids) and be his or her Journal Buddy!
- ART: Each week try beautifully illustrated Big Life Journal printables together. Draw pictures of yourselves learning something new and the steps it took to get there. Hang your work side by side!
- READING: Books like The Most Magnificent Thing by Ashley Spires, Not Yet by Lisa Cox, and Beautiful Oops! by Barney Saltzberg are a few options ideal for elementary-aged kids. They will get some excellent conversations going. View the entire list of recommended books here.
- WATCHING: Movies are a great tool for mindset and character development. They can explain important life lessons and help reinforce messages we're trying to teach our children. View our list of recommended movies here.
Make a Mistake in Real Time
Let kids see you make and process a mistake in front of them using growth mindset language. Did it help you learn something new? What can you improve? Would you use a different strategy next time? Talk about it! Good practice for you, good modeling for them!
Struggle 2: You’re Facing Rigid and Negative Thinkers
Unfortunately, many children are already entrenched in pessimistic or inflexible thinking. Sometimes it can even lead to depression and anxiety.
According to decades of research, children with a pessimistic worldview are at risk for doing poorly in school and compromised physical health. They are also at risk for viewing setbacks and losses as permanent (Seligman, The Optimistic Child, 1995).
Achieving a growth mindset may appear as yet another impossibility to the pessimistic thinker, another area at which to fail.
So how do you reach those negative thinkers?
How to Overcome:
Draw Connection Between Thoughts and Feelings
In Freeing Your Child From Negative Thinking, psychologist Tamar Chansky explains that the first step in changing negative thinking is simply to identify when it’s happening. Kids can learn to recognize negative thoughts by how they make them feel.
Chansky says we “mistake feeling bad as validation of the thoughts when it’s just a natural and temporary reaction to hearing something unpleasant”. When we feel down, it’s often just the result of how we’re thinking. And thinking can be changed!
Help Kids Recognize the Positive Voice Inside
Once kids see that their bad feelings come from negative thinking, rather the truth, they can choose to turn towards the wise, positive voice inside them for answers instead.
Younger children can choose names for their negative and positive thinking (for example, “Mr. Saddy” and “Mrs. Calm”) and begin to see them as characters that can be listened to or ignored as they choose.
Encourage Kids to Name and Accept their Feelings
Another cornerstone in creating a growth mindset relates to emotional intelligence. In his Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child, researcher John Gottman explains the importance of helping children identify and accept their feelings. You can do so by showing them empathy in difficult moments.
When we disregard a child’s emotional state or send the message that their feelings are bad, they begin to believe that they themselves are bad (Gottman, John and Joan DeClaire, 1998). We can normalize a child’s experience by explaining that all feelings are okay to have, even ones that are unpleasant.
Increase their Feelings Vocabulary
Hang a large sheet of paper in a visible spot and add feeling words to it every day to increase feelings vocabulary. Ask children to think of synonyms for the more common sad, mad, and glad. Have them name the emotions of characters in books and movies.
Play “feelings charades” and act out different emotions. Discuss how feelings come and go, and that we can honor them but watch them pass without getting too attached. Another one is usually on its way!
Believe in Your Message
Know that even the most challenging learner is receiving your lessons. It will take time for the seeds we plant to grow.
Each time you show acceptance of a difficult emotion (in yourself or your child) and each time you talk about the power of “yet”, you strengthen his/her future ability to do the SAME for themselves and others. Immediate results aren’t guaranteed, but trust that you’re already making a difference.
Struggle 3: You Feel Alone On This Journey
It can feel quite daunting to imagine all the ways in which our children are exposed to fixed mindsets (from relatives, friends, coaches, etc.). And it’s tempting to feel alone on this journey of valuing effort over the outcome and viewing failures positively.
Unfortunately, many people and systems around us are so deeply entrenched in the more traditional, fixed approach.
How do you keep from feeling deflated?
How to Overcome:
Know your Triggers
Dr. Carol Dweck explained that “most people are a hybrid” of growth and fixed mindset. Not one or the other. And our mindset can SHIFT depending on the situation.
Even those of us who believe strongly in the concept must be aware of our “fixed mindset triggers” like feeling discouraged by criticism and frustrated by challenges.
As I often tell my students, the only thing we can control is ourselves, not the actions of others. So keeping track of our own mindsets is what we can do, and the best place to start!
Connect Praise with Results
Sometimes it seems that our entire educational system is built upon a foundation of fixed mindset: ability groupings, gifted programs, and, of course, grades. At the same time, you can make a big difference for a child by using the right type of praise.
Dr. Carol Dweck stated that teaching growth mindset is more than simply encouraging kids to keep trying or praising effort alone. Instead, she advised that praise should be tied to the final product.
For example, tell a child: “See, you studied more and your grade on this test is higher” (Dweck). This missing component makes all the difference. Rather than being inherently fixed-mindset, assigning grades and tying them to effort is a way of instilling the ability to persevere.
Explain to kids that grades are simply an indication of past performance, not predictions of the future. A grade reflects a specific point in time, a time that has passed.
Instead of dwelling on their grade, encourage kids to ask these questions: What would they do differently this time? What can they do to achieve a different score in the future?
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.