A mindset is an attitude, inclination or disposition. You’ve probably heard the term “mindset” used in the context of having a good attitude or as an encouragement to players to get in a winning frame of mind.
Author Carol Dweck thinks that mindsets are more important than a good attitude or winning a game. In her book Mindset: The Psychology of Success, Dweck explains how crucial the right mindset is for success—for children as well as adults.
A renowned Stanford University psychologist, Dweck researched her theory for decades. What she discovered is that there are two basic mindsets: a “fixed mindset” and a “growth mindset.”
In a fixed mindset, the world is black and white. For a fixed mindset person, you have whatever intelligence or talent you’re born with, and that doesn’t change. In this mindset, you can only grow so far, achieve so much, or learn a certain amount.
Fixed mindset people equate failing at something with being a failure. They believe that you’re either a winner or loser, and if you don’t do well at something, then you didn’t just fail, you are a failure.
Unfortunately, having this fixed mindset and fear of failure often encourages people to avoid making an effort. Fixed mindset people believe either you’re smart or talented enough to be able to do something, or you’re not. And why risk stretching yourself if you might fail? If you failed, then you’d be a failure.
How does this type of thinking impact children? It makes them think that they are limited in their success, and it keeps them from even making an effort. Fixed mindsets can limit our children’s achievements, make effort seem disagreeable, and lead to using inferior learning strategies.
Fortunately, there is another mindset: the growth mindset. In a growth mindset, the focus is on process more than on outcome. People with a growth mindset believe that their intelligence and skills can grow anytime they want them to. They just have to be willing to work at it.
In the growth mindset, failure isn’t something that defines you. On the contrary, growth mindset people see failure as a learning opportunity. For these people, the effort is its own reward. They feel that regardless of failure or success, there is always something to be learned.
Nurturing the Growth Mindset
The good news, according to Dweck, is that people can change their mindsets. And parents can encourage a growth mindset in their children. How can parents do this?
- Model the growth mindset yourself. Dweck suggests that parents can help their children change their mindset by modeling growth mindsets themselves. For example, in front of the kids, parents can discuss things like what they learned that day, what mistakes they made that they learned from, and what things they out effort into — all growth mindset thinking. Soon the children wind up joining in the discussion and, before they know it, adopting a growth mindset themselves.
- Praise effort, not ability. According to Dweck, when praising a child, telling them how smart or talented they are can put them in a fixed mindset. Instead, focus on the effort. You can compliment the work they did and the strategies they used.
- Help your child re-frame their thinking. Instead of asking “can I do this,” growth mindset people ask “how can I do this.” Try encouraging your child to focus on the process.
- Be honest about failure. When your child fails at something, praise their effort and then help them figure out what they can improve for next time. That may mean trying a different strategy, rehearsing/practicing more, or refining their goals. But by acknowledging the failure and then learning from it, you turn a mistake into an advantage, changing a negative to a positive. This creates a mindset that is actually encouraged by failure rather than demoralized.
Most people have a mix of fixed and growth mindsets, including our children. In fact, most people have fixed mindsets in one area, while they have growth mindsets in another. Dweck’s research suggests that by steering their children more toward growth mindsets, parents can help their children to have fuller, more content lives with greater success in both school and life.