Skip Navigation

Head of School Blog


Growth Mindset Parenting: Part 2

April 04, 2016
By Mike Skaggs

Last week I shared the first half of an article by Eduardo Briceño, CEO of Mindset Works titled “Growth Mindset Parenting.”  The article began with a description of growth and fixed mindsets and their importance. This week, the second half of Briceño’s article explains how parents can develop growth mindsets in their children.




Growth Mindset Parenting

How can we develop a growth mindset in our children?

Children learn whether abilities are fixed or malleable from their observations of the world. If we, adults, have a fixed mindset, we will behave and communicate in fixed-minded ways -such as shying away from challenges or talking about people as if their abilities are fixed. This will tend to encourage a fixed mindset in our children. For example, when we think that people are either smart or not, we may find ourselves praising our children for being smart, rather than for the effort or strategies that led them to success. We do that with our best intentions, in order to raise their confidence and self-esteem. But research shows that when we praise children for being smart, they adopt a fixed mindset (i.e. thinking that people are either smart or not), and as a result when things get hard for them they conclude that they are not smart and they experience higher anxiety, lower confidence, and lower performance. They also become less interested in learning, and more interested in showing what they already know how to do. While being told they're smart may make them feel good in the short term, the deeper lesson they learn is that people are either smart or not, and when things get hard, they feel incapable.

We'll be more successful in developing a growth mindset in our children if we also work to develop it in ourselves, which is never too late to do. How can we do so?

Learn about the malleability of abilities and how to develop them. Explore whether abilities are really fixed or malleable, and how expertise is developed. Great books on this topic are Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol Dweck, Talent is Overrated by Geoff Colvin and The Talent Code by Daniel Coyle.

Monitor your self-talk. Pay attention to your own internal dialogue about abilities. When you see a highly capable person, do you recognize the hard work it took to develop that competence? When you or your child struggle to do something, do you tend to conclude that you can't develop the needed ability, or that you haven't developed it yet? When your child does something well, do you praise them for being talented or help them reflect on the behaviors that led them to success? When you realize you're thinking in a fixed minded way, observe what effect that thinking has on you, and remind yourself of what you've learned about the malleability of abilities and what it takes to develop expertise.

Become a role model learner. Children observe and imitate us. If we want them to be interested in learning and work hard to develop their abilities, we need to do the same ourselves. Setting learning goals, working hard to improve, and making our learning process visible to those around us are ways to demonstrate that effective effort is worth doing and leads to improved abilities. Talk about the challenges you are taking on, the mistakes you're making, the lessons you're learning, and your progress.

Be deliberate about the messages you send. When we feel uncomfortable calculating the tip on a restaurant bill and hand it off for someone else to calculate, it conveys that we think we can't learn math and don't work to develop our abilities. When we speak about other people as smart or naturally talented, or unfit for a particular area, it conveys that we have fixed mindsets, which prompts children to do the same. When we cover up our failures or mistakes, rather than reflect on and discuss them, it conveys that mistakes are a sign of inability, rather than a consequence of challenge and an opportunity to learn.

Some people enjoy ongoing learning and growth as a source of fulfillment throughout their lives, one that nobody can take away from them. I wish that for you and for your children. Happy learning!