It turns out that what and how we think about ability and intelligence can influence our approach to learning, motivation to take on difficult tasks, response to mistakes and failure, perseverance in challenges, and academic achievement.
Carol Dweck, a psychologist at Stanford University, categorized these beliefs into two types of “mindsets”. Her book titled Mindset: the new psychology of success (2006, updated 2016) summarized research related to student beliefs about ability and found different learning behaviors when a student has a “growth mindset” versus a “fixed mindset”.
- Generally, a growth mindset is related to the following beliefs: Intelligence and ability can improve and change as a result of effort, perseverance, and practice; challenges are temporary and opportunities to enhance learning, mistakes and failures are also viewed as opportunities to learn.
- In contrast, a fixed mindset is related to beliefs that: intelligence and ability are set (fixed traits) and cannot be changed or developed, that effort will not overcome challenges, mistakes or failures might reflect a lack of ability, being smart or gifted means succeeding with little effort, success is proving you are smart, putting forth effort or struggling to learn might mean a child is “not smart”, a child may feel the need to keep proving and tasks that cannot be done easily or quickly might be avoided.
Benefits of helping children develop a growth mindset
A child’s mindset can influence behavior and academic achievement. These beliefs influences how we face challenges and setbacks. Using a growth mindset more often helps children realize that practice, study, and effort can strengthen brain functioning and enhance long-term success at school, particularly when working through academic challenges or failures.
Having a growth mindset has predicted higher grades, greater motivation, and been associated with students taking on more advanced and challenging classes. Differences in mindsets have been observed in children as young as three years of age and related to their desire and approach to challenges in elementary school. Studies have found that explicitly teaching children about the brain and that intelligence can be developed increased a growth mindset. (See resources below for reviews of research).
Strategies to help facilitate a growth mindset
Mindsets are beliefs that can be changed. Parents and teachers can pass down their beliefs and mindset to children in comments, expectations, types of praise, and response to mistakes. Strategies that parents can use include:
- Emphasize effort and effective strategies (give process praise). Focus on the learning process and how hard work, use of good strategies, and resources rather than on outcome or being “smart”.
- Praise should be sincere. Empty praise and praising effort regardless of the outcome might feel disingenuous to children and is not helpful (if effort alone is not working you can encourage more effective strategies to successfully accomplish a task). It is not just praising effort but also using right or effective strategies.
- Add the word “yet” when I child states that he or she can’t do something.
Examples: “you really studied hard for your history test, read the material twice and took notes, and it worked” rather than “you are so smart”; “I like how you kept trying different strategies to solve that math problem until you got it” and see Say this /Not that at: https://www.mindsetworks.com/parents/growth-mindset-parenting)
Talk about the brain
- Teach your child about the brain and how you can change your brain and strengthen neural connections with experience, effort, practice, taking on challenges, asking questions, actively participating in learning.
- Brainology for Home (https://www.mindsetworks.com/programs/brainology-for-home) is one program available.
- Encourage children to take on challenges and understand that mistakes are part of learning.
- Let children know that setbacks or feedback are ok and do not reflect lack of intelligence or ability; encourage them to ask for help when needed.
- Share your own stories about success achieved from hard work and achievements that result from hard work.
- Model persistence, effort and managing failure well. Talk about what you learned from mistakes.
- When we get angry, scared, or feel threatened, our fight or flight response is activated and it is difficult to be calm, think clearly and learn. It is important to support children when they are getting frustrated or upset, particularly when making mistakes or struggling to learn.
- Diaphragmatic breathing (belly breathing) is one strategy to use to help children calm down and manage their feelings and be able to move forward.
For example, breathe slowly in through your nose 3 seconds and out through your mouth 4 seconds. Have your child practice by placing a stuffed animal on his/her belly while lying down and making the animal rise while breathing in and see it fall when exhaling out mouth.
Parents can help their children build resiliency and increase academic achievement. One way to do this is by encouraging children to develop a “growth mindset”. It is an ongoing process and takes practice. Children have different initial talents, aptitudes, interests and temperaments with potential that can be enhanced. People tend to have both types of mindsets depending on circumstances, but parents can encourage the type of thinking that will increase the use of a growth mindset that produces perseverance and resilience.
There is still a lot of research that needs to be done to fully understand the impact of mindset alone. It is important to consider all the different factors that contribute to school success and a child’s approach to learning (consider findings about early experience and brain development https://developingchild.harvard.edu ). Nevertheless, encouraging a growth mindset – knowing and believing that you can increase your ability and strengthen cognitive performance through effort, practice, and perseverance– is a powerful and accessible tool and strategy that promotes learning, resiliency, and an ability to effectively cope with setbacks and challenges.
REFERENCES AND RESOURCES
- Dweck, C. S. (2006). Mindset: The new psychology of success. Random House Digital, Inc.
- Resources for parents: https://www.mindsetworks.com/parents/default
- Videos: https://www.mindsetworks.com/parents/growth-mindset-parenting
- Free Growth mindset program for 9th grade students: https://www.perts.net/orientation/hg
A critique of mindset research can be found in the following:
Victoria F. Sisk, Alexander P. Burgoyne, Jingze Sun, Jennifer L. Butler, Brooke N. Macnamara. To What Extent and Under Which Circumstances Are Growth Mind-Sets Important to Academic Achievement? Two Meta-Analyses. Psychological Science, 2018; 29 (4): 549 DOI: 10.1177/0956797617739704
Updated replication studies and new additional supporting data can be found from the National Study of Learning Mindsets at https://theconversation.com/growth-mindset-interventions-yield-impressive-results-97423 and https://mindsetscholarsnetwork.org/about-the-network/current-initatives/key-findings/