So, what does it take for a child to be successful at something like math or learning a language? Does it take talent? Research shows that there are certainly individual differences in predisposition for learning certain skills, but that this talent doesn’t get us very far. What really matters is putting in hours of hard work and practice, or “true grit“. But that is not the only important part of success. Another, very important ingredient is to have a “growth mindset”, a term that the Psychologist Dr. Carol Dweck coined, based on years of research on children’s success in school.
In this blog, the sixth installment in a series in which I have discussed various things parents can do to help their child be successful in school (such as a healthy life style, plenty of sleep, a supportive relationship with your child, successful study habits, and getting involved in your child’s education) I will discuss some of the ways you can help foster a growth mindset in your child. According to Dr. Dweck, there are basically two ways to think about intelligence or talent: a “fixed mindset”, where you believe that you have what you are born with and that’s it, and a “growth mindset”, which is the idea that intelligence (or talent in something) is malleable and can change as a result of hard work. Neuroscientific research in the past two decades has found plenty of evidence for the growth mindset: our brains change constantly as a result of our actions and our experiences. Dr. Dweck has found in her research that the way adults (parents and teachers) talk with children about intelligence and talent has profound effects on the mindset they develop, and she showed with her research that children who have a growth mindset are more successful at mastering new academic skills than children with a fixed mindset. Dr. Vickie Schafer posted a powerpoint presentation some time ago that summarizes Dr. Dweck’s research.
There are several things parents and teachers can do to foster a growth mindset:
- Avoid talking about or praising “innate” ability, but instead praise hard work.
- Emphasize that it takes practice to master a new skill.
- Talk about abilities as something that is malleable and changes over time as a result of training, hard work and practice (e.g. training the brain like a muscle). Avoid talking about abilities as something that is fixed.
- Compare your child’s performance to how she was doing before, and point out all the progress she has made and how her hard work is paying off.
- Put more emphasis on trying different strategies to solve a problem than on knowing “the right answer” right away.
- Avoid comparing your child to other children in his class.
With these six easy steps you can come a long way in fostering a growth mindset in your child and help her on her way to become more successful in school. Dr. Dweck found that children with growth mindsets more readily take on new challenging tasks, have more fun figuring out new strategies to solve problems, are less afraid of failure and learn more from failure, and end up performing better than children with a fixed mindset. If you are interested in this topic and would like to find out more, I encourage you to read Dr. Carol Dweck’s book Mindset, The New Psychology of Success (also available in audiobook form).