In the parenting world you may have come across the term growth mindset. If you were any sort of education major, you heard it every day of your college life. It’s kind of the end-all, be-all for child education right now. It’s the phrase you sprinkle in a teacher interview and they can’t give you the job fast enough. So if it’s such a big deal in the education world why is it popping up on parenting blogs, and why is it a Slumberkins book? It’s because, jokes aside, you are your child’s number one educator and it really is that important.
What is Growth Mindset?
Growth Mindset is a theory developed by Carol Dweck. Someone with a growth mindset believes that knowledge and skills are attainable over time and that failure is an opportunity to learn. On the flip side, someone with a fixed mindset believes that knowledge and skills are inherent and unchangeable; that failure is proof that they aren’t cut out to do something.
We see examples of fixed mindsets all the time. You hear it when kids say, “I’m bad at math,” or, “I can’t!” You hear it when an adult says, “I’m not a writer,” or, “I can’t cook!” Sure, maybe math isn’t your strongest suit, and if you’re like me you still burn everything, even in an Instant Pot, but that doesn’t mean you are set up for a life of failure with these skills. There is power in the word 'yet.' You aren’t a great cook—yet. You can’t write—yet.
Power in Our Words
There is weight in the words we choose to use with our children. If you catch your kid saying “I can’t…” or “I’m not…,” reinforce the idea that they can’t yet or they aren’t yet! They can be, or will be able to, if they keep working hard. That’s another key concept: hard work.
What happens if you constantly tell your child they are a natural athlete, the best artist ever, or the smartest? Over time they will develop a fixed mindset that they don’t have to work hard to be good at those things. But what happens when one day they do have to work a little harder, they aren’t THE best one, or heaven forbid, they fail?!! The idea drilled into them that they were innately good at something without effort can lead them to believe they aren’t good at that thing anymore or that their failure is permanent.
Phrases to Use to Develop a Growth Mindset
To combat creating a fixed mindset, here are some phrases you can use instead of unchanging superlatives:
- You worked so hard on that!
- You never gave up! Even when it was hard.
- I can tell you tried your very best!
- You have taken great care of___!
- That took a lot of patience.
- Your hard work paid off!
- That shows dedication!
- Describe what you see: “You made your dinosaur pink!”
- You put a lot of detail into that!
Lead by Example
Just like most things in life, though, our children learn the most by simply observing us. A child doesn’t wake up one day and say, “Hey reading is hard. I fail. I’m not a reader.” We also would never tell our kids, “You can’t even sound out 'cat'?! You’ll never read!” They will, however, see how we handle our own mistakes, shortcomings, and failures.
There is an awesome meme that says, “I tell my kids to say 'please' and 'thank you' constantly and they never do, but I say ‘explitive’ ‘explitive’ once and…” It’s true! And it’s super scary. It’s powerful when we show our children how we get through a situation that makes us work hard, struggle, and maybe even fail. It’s important that they see we don’t just give up when the going gets tough.
A funny example of this is with my mom and my little girl. My mom always says her hands are "as weak as little kittens," and car seat buckles "are hard for even the strong sister on Encanto." So when my mom watches my little girl and has to undo her car seat buckles, my mom says over and over, “I’m just struggling!” My little one-year-old started saying she was struggling in many instances after that, and my mom felt like she needed to change her phrase.
Little did she know, she was modeling a growth mindset! Even though she was struggling, she kept trying and never gave up (at least I don’t think my daughter was ever left in her car seat… mom?)! So, the other day when all my doors locked at the carwash with my daughters inside--in their car seats--my daughter didn’t give up until she had unbuckled herself and unlocked the door! Thank goodness.
It's Not Just for Littles
Having a growth mindset is obviously important for your little ones when they are learning the foundations of literally everything. Can you even imagine learning how to read and write without one?! But a growth mindset is also foundational for them to develop so that when they grow up they don’t count themselves as “not good enough for the soccer team,” “not a college person,” “not capable to make a real difference,” “not dateable,” “not smart enough to be boss.” It is just as important in your older kids as it is in your younger ones. And don’t fret! It really is never too late to develop a growth mindset!
Take my husband, for instance: he just got done with nurse practitioner school and he had to write like he was an English major. I’m not kidding. Before his master’s, he would have died at the thought of writing an essay. It would take him HOURS just to compose a text. He had a fixed mindset that he just wasn’t a writer. After months of hard work and a dozen papers, he finally was getting the hang of it. (Believe me, I edited every essay, and I know I’m biased, but he really did improve immensely!) In the end, his mindset changed, and he even feels confident enough to help others with their papers.
So don’t give up! You can help your kids and yourself to have a growth mindset even when it may be hard. I mean, look at you working hard getting through this blog post! It was a long one and you persevered! It took patience to read through, but now you know more than when you started.
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