“Mommy help, I can’t do this… It’s too difficult… Please do it for me.” How often do we hear that as parents? While it is a lot easier to jump in and rescue a child by taking control of the situation, like when they are tying their shoes, putting on pajamas, or opening a candy bar, these are actually great teaching moments.
There is no doubt that raising a child is incredibly difficult. The pressure is on the parents to raise their kids to be the best that they can be. That includes teaching them to become independent, to persevere, fail, learn, and try again. This is what fostering a growth mindset is all about – viewing challenges and setbacks as opportunities for growth and success.
Children’s brains are constantly developing from birth, with thousands of neural connections forming as a result of the many interactions children have with their environment. This constant growth means it’s important to surround children with an enriching and positive environment, especially in early childhood.
Harvard University’s Center on the Developing Child tells us the first five years of life is the most crucial timespan for a child’s developing brain, and how a child’s brain develops during this critical time will affect their success in later life. During these early years, the brain is being built from the ground up. Thus, parents have the greatest influence on their child’s brain development and ability to learn in the future.
A child’s brain is like a sponge – it absorbs everything around it. Mirror neurons in the brain lead to children replicating the behaviors of those around them, therefore, the things you say and do influence their developing mind, which develops faster than any other part of the body. As their brain develops during this period, intelligence, emotional stability, personality, and mindset begin to take shape. This is why parents (and caretakers) need to be mindful of their actions in front of a child. More importantly, this is why instilling a growth mindset in young children is incredibly important.
So What is a Growth Mindset for Kids?
Stanford University of Psychology’s Carol Dweck published her research on mindset psychological traits. In it, she delved deeply into how one can train his/her mind to foster success. In her theory, she shared two types of learning mindsets – ‘fixed and growth mindsets.’
Dweck explained that a fixed mindset is when one believes that his/her talents and intelligence are built-in and cannot be developed and enhanced. When people with a fixed mindset fail to achieve a certain goal, they give up, thinking they are simply not cut out for it, limiting their success in life.
Growth mindset, on the other hand, is about the process rather than results. Hard work and learning can help someone improve and polish their skills/talents to become more successful.
Like most teaching theories, instilling the growth mindset is most effective during the early years of life (0 to 7 years). As said earlier, the human brain develops extremely quickly during these years, and for this reason, it is extremely important to instill the correct values in young minds.
How Can You Teach Your Kids the Growth Mindset?
Start with How You Think and Behave
Children are keen observers; they watch their parents and learn from their actions. Thus, your attitude, behavior, and the way you think on a daily basis matters. Ask yourself, how do you react when you fail at something or make mistakes? They will notice your outlook on life, and they will mimic it thinking it is how things should be done. Thus, the best way to instill a positive outlook/mindset in children is by talking positively out loud.
If you messed up the dish you’re cooking, don’t curse in front of a child. Rather, say something like “Let me try again” or “I need to practice more to get it right next time.”
When they hear positive words, children learn that it is okay to make mistakes and learn from them.
Praise the Process, Not the Result
Too often, parents are result-driven. They want their kids to have high grades, win awards and games, etc. Growth mindset is not just concerned with the results. Instead, it emphasizes the importance of going through the process. When your child gets good grades, appreciate and praise his/her hard work and effort, not only the final result.
When they fail or lose games, motivate them to take it as a learning experience to become better. Recognize their efforts.
Set SMART Goals
Have you ever heard the phrase “A goal without a plan is just a wish?” That couldn’t be more applicable than when introducing a growth mindset. Help your child set his/her own goals and guide them throughout the “plan-making” process. Dweck shared her five rules to set up goals – SMART.
- S – Specific – Specify the goal. What exactly does your child want? Help him/her come up with the most specific answer.
- M – Measurable – How will your kid define success in relation to that goal?
- A – Attainable – For a goal to be attainable, it must be realistic. If your kid wants to travel to space for his birthday, you may have to intervene.
- R – Relevant – The goal must have beneficial attributes.
- T – Time Bound – Set a deadline for the goal.
Teach Your Child the Importance of Good and Bad Thoughts
Talk to children about their thoughts. If you sense them having a negative approach towards certain things, teach them the importance of challenging themselves. Much like grown-ups, kids have an inner voice that tells them to set limits and play safe. Encourage your child to take on daunting tasks when relevant to their growth.
When it comes to understanding their good and bad thoughts, ask your child to write them on a sheet of paper. Divide the page into two sections – one for the good thoughts, one for the bad thoughts.
On the good thoughts side, teach your child to write optimistic phrases, like “I am still learning,” “I will eventually get better,” “I can do this.” On the other side, write pessimistic phrases, such as “This is too difficult,” “I will never be good enough,” etc.
From here, you can help the child understand their thoughts and help them deal with negative emotions. And if you want to take it a step further, you can even have them rip apart the pessimistic phrases, symbolically leaving them with only positive thoughts.
Have daily discussions with your child about their life and experiences. Encourage them to be their best. Teach them to use positive self-talk. Remind them that failure is a learning opportunity for them to start over. More importantly, teach your children to treat themselves and others with care and respect.
Growth mindset in young children can be intimidating, but it’s the best way to build a strong foundation for future success. Like most things in life, it takes practice and repetition. There are lots of resources such as apps, e-books, and guides online to help you with this. They reduce your need for guesswork and help you start teaching your child right away. Check them out, they are worth the investment.