Growth Mindset Parenting |

4 min read
Pavel Danilyuk/Monstera Production/Pexels

Pavel Danilyuk/Monstera Production/Pexels

Fixed vs. Growth Mindset

Those who have a growth mindset think of intelligence and other abilities—athletic, musical, artistic, etc.—as developing over time and that there are always opportunities to learn. Those with a fixed mindset see abilities as fixed at birth. Someone with a fixed mindset might say in response to failing a math test, “I’m no good at math.” In response to the same situation, someone with a growth mindset might say, “I need to work harder on understanding algebra.”

You can have a growth mindset in some areas but not others, believing for example that you can learn to be a better tennis player if you work hard at it, but also believing that some people are born creative, and some aren’t.

As you might expect, people with a growth mindset look at problems and failures as opportunities to learn how to do better, whereas those with a fixed mindset try to avoid setbacks, and are embarrassed or defensive when they inevitably happen.

Benefits of the Growth Mindset

Growth mindset people are happier, more encouraging and positive, less judgmental, more enthusiastic about new experiences, and more successful in every domain of life in which they hold a growth mindset, whether it be school, work, friendships, or parenting.

What Does Growth Mindset Parenting Look Like in Practice?

To parent with a growth mindset, try the following:

  1. Praise your child for their curiosity and effort, not their ability. Tell them how proud you are of their persistence in learning how to read (something in their control), but don’t tell them they’re smart (something that feels permanently fixed and out of their control).
  2. Welcome setbacks as learning opportunities, not as embarrassing failures. “Oh dear, you spilled your milk again. What should we do so it doesn’t happen tomorrow?” Not “Have you spilled your milk again? You are so clumsy.”
  3. Don’t set a limit on your child’s potential. Don’t think of your child’s abilities— whether high or low—as being fixed. Instead, encourage them to follow their curiosity, and support them in developing their interests. Current research on the brain’s plasticity shows that there’s always room for learning and growth.
  4. Avoid labelling your child, even with positive labels. Categorical labels (learning disabled, gifted, uncoordinated, beautiful) encourage self-consciousness as well as a fixed mindset. Labels of any kind discourage your child from following their interests as freely and fully as they otherwise might.
  5. Don’t play the blame game. When you or your child has a problem, don’t look for who or what to blame. Instead, focus on what you can do differently going forward.
  6. Teach your child basic growth mindset principles. Help your child understand what growth and fixed mindsets are and how they show up in our language and behavior. For example, if someone says, “I can’t do this!” remind them to say “I can’t do this yet.” Encourage your child to let you know when you or other family members slip into a fixed mindset, and to think together about how you might shift into a growth mindset.

Mindset Controversies

Mindset was Carol Dweck’s 2006 best-selling book in which she described her comparison of growth and fixed mindsets, based on her decades of research on attribution theory (looking at what people attribute their successes and failures to). The mindset ideas ­­­were widely adopted, and—like many complex ideas that spread like wildfire—were not always applied consistently with Dweck’s research. Controversies followed in which critics challenged the benefits of the growth mindset.

Following a careful investigation of the criticism, Dweck wrote about “false growth mindsets,” and emphasized the importance of paying attention to the nuances and avoiding a superficial application of a simplified version of mindset theory. Subsequent research affirmed Dweck’s earlier findings on the effectiveness of the growth mindset.

Growth Mindset Parenting

Thinking about the application of her research on mindsets to parenting, Carol Dweck wrote, “The best things parents can do is to teach their children to love challenges, be intrigued by mistakes, enjoy effort, and keep on learning.”

If you develop a growth mindset in your own attitudes and behaviors, you’ll not only be happier and more successful, you’ll also be helping your child find a growth mindset for themself. You’ll be supporting them in being happier, more confident, and more successful in every area of their life.

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