With good reason, September is all about a growth mindset. With the transition of the new school year underway, nurturing a natural and innate love for learning is important so that school becomes a get-to and not a have-to.
Our mindset can lay the foundation for resiliency and learning of all types: both social-emotional and academic. According to Elizabeth Sautter, M.A., CCC-SLP, licensed speech and language pathologist, author of Make Social And Emotional Learning Stick, and co-founder of the Make It Stick Program, “Our mindset is how we see things in the world and it can give us the power to think positively and achieve our goals.”
Not all mindsets are created equal. The way we think about ourselves and our talents affects what we achieve, and whether we stick to new skills or develop new habits.
Sometimes we fall into a fixed mindset, which says: I am either good at this or I am not.
With intentionality, we can nurture a growth mindset, which says: Mistakes and flaws are growth opportunities.
Below is a chart that outlines some of the core differences between the two mindsets:
|Growth Mindset||Fixed Mindset|
|Believes effort and attitude determine abilities||Believes talent and abilities are static |
|Embraces flaws and mistakes ||Hides flaws and mistakes |
|Accepts challenges as part of learning||Avoids challenges to prevent failure |
|Problem-solves through frustration ||Gives up/shuts down when frustrated|
|Excited to try new things ||Sticks to what they know|
|Inspired by the success of others||Threatened by the success of others|
|Views feedback as constructive criticism ||Views feedback as personal attacks |
Many of us find that, while we desire to bolster a growth mindset in our children, we are shaky on how to actually do it. It may not have been modeled in our family systems during our own formative years. This makes it tricky, not impossible. In fact, it is never too late to learn. Adults and children alike can exercise these skills daily, together.
Sautter says, “Building a growth mindset is like going to the gym and exercising your muscles. It takes work but these ‘brain workouts’ can make you stronger and help you achieve your goals.”
Praise Effort, Not Achievement
Over and over again we hear that our words matter, and they do. Many times, the words we use become the self-talk of our children. As parents and educators, we have the utmost best intentions when we praise the outcome of children. It is fueled by deep love and a desire to inspire and cultivate a child’s self-esteem. Research has shown, however, that focusing on the outcome over effort has the opposite effect.
Let’s give an example:
Your child comes up and shows you their artwork.
You reply with: “Wow! This is the best art I have ever seen! Look at my little artist! This is so perfect. I love it!”
Your child may internalize: What I did got so much attention and praise. I am good for doing good. I better keep it up.
And while this may all look solid on the surface, over time it can lead to a fixed mindset as the child strives to stay in their comfort zone in order to maintain being “the best artist ever.” When our love and affection are directed towards outcome over process, children begin to fear making mistakes and trying new things to prevent future possibilities of failure.
Carol Dweck, a psychologist who coined the term growth mindset and the author of her book Mindset, says, “We can’t hand children permanent confidence by praising their brain and talents. It leads to doubt as soon as things get hard or anything goes wrong.”
Now, let’s see the same situation with a focus on effort:
You reply with: “Wow, I can tell you worked really hard on this. I see so many colors here. Can you tell me more about how you created your artwork?”
Your child may internalize: My parent/educator is interested in my process. I am safe to create, express, mess up and learn.
Here are some other growth mindset phrases. Try any number of these, or come up with your own:
|I see you learning every day. ||Mistakes help us learn and grow. |
|What a creative solution!||You are using great puzzle-solving strategies. |
|You practiced so hard and it shows. ||It’s okay to take a break and start again. |
|I see you sticking with this even though it is tricky to figure out. ||Hmm, that one seemed too easy for you. How can we make it more challenging? |
|You can do hard things. I believe in you. ||You seem determined to figure this out. |
In addition to the words we use, it is also helpful to set age and developmentally appropriate expectations for children. When offering feedback, be specific and focus on your child’s individual performance. You may also choose to give observational encouragement such as “Your room looks clean” or “I see you finished the puzzle today.”
6 Tools To Nurture A Growth Mindset
In her book, Make Social and Emotional Learning Stick, Sautter shares several tools to help adults and children bolster a growth mindset. These are helpful not only for small, daily moments but for big transitions like playing a sport or learning in a classroom environment.
1. Create A “Try Something New” Jar
- Choose a mason jar or some other container or box.
- Cut out small strips of paper or use sticky notes to begin.
- Encourage your child to write down things they want to try or new things to learn, with one idea on each piece of paper. This can also be done as a family.
- Put all ideas into the jar.
- At least once a week, pick one piece of paper from the jar and make a plan to try the idea together.
2. Redefine Mistakes
Teach your child that mistakes are opportunities for learning. This can be done by:
- Reading children’s books where the main character makes mistakes, taking intentional pauses while reading to discuss what happened and what was learned from the character’s mishap.
- Creating catchy acronyms such as OOPS: Other Opportunities for Problem Solving.
- Offering regular family feeling check-ins to talk about emotions and learning moments.
- Writing a scripted story or journaling.
- Incorporating regulatory breathing exercises and movements.
- Look up different inventions that were born from making a mistake
3. Model Making Mistakes
Share with your child some of the mistakes you have made in your life and the lessons you learned from them. In doing so, it helps replace the isolation and scariness of messing up with connection and safety. We all make mistakes because we are all perfectly imperfect, whole and complete just as we are!
Model “in the moment” strategies, too. Instead of bashing yourself and saying, “I can’t believe I would do that. What’s wrong with me?!”, give yourself some self-love and compassion. In watching how we manage our challenging moments, our children hardwire how to manage theirs. Sautter says, “One of the most powerful ways to build your child’s growth mindset is to talk about how you are building yours.”
4. Promote Flexibility
Help your child build a growth mindset by thinking about all of the ways that they can be flexible. One way to do this is through art. Invite your child to close their eyes and make an unwanted mark on their paper. Then use a variety of art supplies to turn that “mistake” into a work of art. By problem-solving, your child will explore solutions that may take the form of animals, objects, places, and more!
5. Set Intentions
First thing in the morning, encourage your child to pick an intention or something to focus on for the day that will help them grow, learn and connect with others. Encourage them to set goals such as:
- I will try a new game at recess today.
- I will take a deep breath when I feel nervous or frustrated.
- Today, I will say hi to one new person.
6. Create Mantras
Help your child become aware of the negative thoughts that get in their way. One way to do this is to encourage your child to write down any stressors or limiting self-talk on a piece of paper. Then, shred the paper and toss it into the recycle bin, explaining that these thoughts can be transformed into new, affirming mantras.
Invite your child to write positive affirmations on sticky notes, their mirror, or any other place they can see them often. Here are a few ideas to get them started:
- “I choose to make today a good day.”
- “I am proud of my efforts.”
- “I am smart and capable.”
- “I am powerful and can change my feelings with my thoughts.”
- “I am enough.”
- “I am a good friend.”
Noticing and praising who our children are over what they do -- things like their creativity, empathy, appreciation for music, or their willingness to stand up for a peer -- nourishes a growth mindset. Our children are good for what’s inside of them - their true self - not for any behavior they do or don’t do or anything they achieve or don’t.
For more ideas, check out our Activity Calendar.
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