Build Your Child’s Success Mindset

I overheard two college students talking about their classes. I was eating a bagel but I couldn’t help overhearing. Their conversation went something like this:

“I can’t believe you got an ‘A’ on that test. I’m just not that good at math. But you’re smart.”

“Not really. I just sat with the study group and reviewed everything. That was a big help.”

Did you catch the difference in how these two students talked about success? Only the second student talked about studying and believed it helpful. “To study or not to study” flows from the student’s belief systems about self and growth. The first student seemed to believe her math knowledge is fixed. She’s “just not that good at math.” The second student believes study can lead to improvement. In fact, participating in a study group “was a big help.” Carol Dweck, a professor at Stanford University, would likely say the first student shows a fixed mindset. A person with a fixed mindset believes intelligence and ability are fixed or unchangeable. They spend time protecting their fixed ability by avoiding challenges and only engaging in activities in which they know they can succeed and, by succeeding, maintain their image. They tend to look at the end result for validation rather than the process and effort invested.

The second student displays more of what Carol Dweck calls a growth mindset. People with a growth mindset believe intelligence and abilities can be developed. They embrace challenges and persist in the face of obstacles. They persist because they believe effort will help them grow. When they encounter failure, they consider it an opportunity to learn what they can do differently to obtain greater success in the future.  For instance, they might try a different strategy, focus on a different detail, or develop a certain skill to help them experience future success. In other words, success comes through effort and intentionally improving strategies and skills.

As you can imagine, a growth mindset creates greater possibility for success. Fortunately, parents can help their children develop a growth mindset, one that focuses on the effort, strategies, and process that contribute to success. Parents teach children a growth mindset in the way they talk to their children. Consider the following examples.

Statements Promoting a Fixed Mindset Statements Promoting a Growth Mindset
“You’re really good at that.” “You put a lot of work into that.”
“You did poorly on that test. I guess it’s not your subject.” “You did badly on that test—what did you learn from the ones you missed?”
“You’re the only one who scored.” “What made you keep working so hard to score?”
“Nice job on that piano piece.” “Wow. That took a lot of practice. How will you challenge yourself to keep practicing the next one?”
“You are a good artist.” “I like the colors you chose. How have you worked to improve your talent?”
“That’s just not in your skill set, is it?” “What strategies might help you improve?”
“That was a terrible performance.” “What did you learn from that performance?”
“We won. That was a great game.” “What did you and your team do to make this game go so well.”
“I can’t get this.” “This is a challenge for you. What strategies have you tried? What new strategies could you try?”
“That was a big fail.” “It’s OK to take a risk. What can you do different next time after what you learned today?

Changing statements and questions from those that promote a fixed mindset to those that promote a growth mindset will help your children develop a growth mindset…and that will increase their chances of experiencing success in life!

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