Marchelle Abrahams looks at the concept of growth mindset and how parents can apply it to their children.
Albert Einstein, Oprah Winfrey, Steve Jobs. What do they have in common? They are great minds that first failed but didn’t give up. “Every challenge provides an opportunity to become more empowered.” This, says education expert Traci Salter, is what parents should keep in mind when pushing their children to do more, become more.
Too often young children are coerced into performing well at school. Academic achievements are all well and good but the results could be damaging to their self-esteem.
Salter has sage advice for parents who are concerned about their children’s academic success and it all comes down to cultivating a “growth mindset”.
“Children who think their intelligence and ability is ‘fixed’ - that they are stuck at a certain level of smarts - tend to do less well than those who think that they can,” she said.
“However, learners who understand that their intelligence or skill level can be improved by effort and experimentation seek more challenges, learn from mistakes and don’t give up in the face of failure.”
The terms “growth mindset” and “fixed mindset” were first coined by Stanford University psychologist Carol Dweck, one of the world’s leading minds in the field of motivation. Her research has focused on why people succeed and how to foster success.
During a 2012 interview she discussed the difference between the two mindsets, saying fixed mindset students believe their basic abilities, their intelligence, their talents, are fixed traits.
For her growth mindset concept she drew on neuroscience to show that a learner’s brain can improve with dedicated effort. That means personal qualities and abilities are not fixed - but can change by simply adapting your approach.
“Cultivating a growth mindset in one’s child is not a complicated process and it can be given immediate and significant momentum with just one little word: yet,” added Salter.
Dweck recommends we ensure children know “it is okay and safe to fail and that taking risks and learning from failure can lead to invention and creativity”.
Salter said the way we praise our children plays an important role.
“Dweck advised that, rather than using general praise, for instance saying ‘you can do it because you are so smart’, parents and teachers should praise specific efforts that lead to improvements such as focus, persistence and work habits.
As parents, we have to let our children experience failure while they are young so that they can strengthen their growth mindset muscles, said Salter.
Dweck’s three steps to help develop a growth mindset:
Have daily learning discussions
It’s important for parents and guardians to share their learning as well, because it shows children that even grown-ups learn new things every day and learn from failures.
Give feedback on process only
Praise effort by children, but don’t praise personal abilities like being smart, pretty, or artistic.
Encourage risk, failing and learning from mistakes
Failure teaches children important life lessons - it’s how they learn resilience and self-motivation.