growing your child's positive mindset

Growth Mindset vs. Fixed Mindset: How to set your child up for success

Einstein’s teacher said he was ‘academically subnormal’, Michael Jordan’s coach said that he wasn’t more talented than other people, Walt Disney was told he lacked ‘creative imagination’ and  J.K. Rowling was told her story about a boy wizard would never sell!

As we now know all those individuals went on to gain outstanding success in their chosen fields.  What interests researchers is HOW they achieved this. Were they lucky, innately able or did they just work hard. What happened that changed their prospects so dramatically?

Are people born successful, or do they become successful?

Psychologist and eminent researcher in the field, Carol Dweck Ph.D. believes she has the evidence to support the idea that intelligence can develop, and that effort leads to success. Her influential research was first published in 2006 by Stanford University. 

According to Dweck, some people believe that intelligence is set at birth, and that success or failure is determined by one’s intrinsic ability. This is a fixed mindset.

Others argue that the brain is ‘plastic’: like any muscle, it responds to regular exercise. Through study and hard work, therefore, intelligence can be strengthened. This is a growth mindset: the belief that effort improves intelligence. And, obviously, with improved intelligence comes improved outcomes.

Dweck argues that although each person starts with a unique genetic profile, the view you adopt for yourself profoundly affects the way you lead your life. If you view your skills as being fixed you may be at a disadvantage.  Which mindset you possess can have a profound effect on motivation to learn, as well as your ability to set yourself and achieve challenging goals.

Think of the  Aesop fable, ‘The Tortoise and the Hare”. The hare had a fixed mindset that he was the fastest and the best. We all know how that story ended, the hare’s arrogance led to him losing the race to the tortoise, whose growth mindset just kept him moving forward and not giving up.

Since Dweck coined the phrase ‘growth mindset’, it has become something of a buzz word in the educational world. Many schools have jumped on board the ‘growth mindset’ bandwagon as the  message is one that appeals to teachers and pupils alike. 


Why is a growth mindset important?

Less comparison, more control

A growth mindset matters to your children’s future success because as soon as children are able to compare themselves to others, some will stop focusing on learning and concentrate on performance instead. Children with a fixed mindset feel as if they have no control over their abilities and think ‘I’m just not good enough so what is the point in trying, it wont make any difference’. They quickly stop trying and over time may engage in disruptive behaviour to mask the fact that they are struggling. 

Children take ownership of their studies

It matters because encouraging your child to develop a growth mindset is beneficial as it can help them be inspired to work harder, see mistakes as opportunities, be more engaged in the classroom and not give up when faced with challenges. They are likely to have more success in school and receive greater rewards from their work.  It also appears to improve behaviour, increase life satisfaction and help children control their emotions. 

How can you help your child develop a growth mindset

As a parent you can help your child develop a ‘growth mindset’. Research has shown that mindsets can be changed relatively quickly (one study by Dweck involving middle school pupils saw improvements in 8 weeks).  

You can help your child by:

Setting high expectations  

Show your child that you believe they are capable, don’t lower your expectations so  as to guarantee success. Showing you believe in them has a positive impact on them.

Encouraging persistence 

Teach them the power of ‘YET’. Simply by adding ‘yet’ to the end of a negative sentence, ‘I can’t tie my shoe... yet’, is so much more hopeful and optimistic.

Celebrating mistakes 

Sometimes a child learns more from a misstep or a failure. Let them know that mistakes are all part of the learning process.  Talk about what they need to do differently next time to improve.

Using inspirational role models

Include yourself in this! Let your child overhear you thinking aloud positive phrases when you make a mistake or something goes wrong. 

The brain is a muscle

Help them understand the brain works like a muscle. This means hard work, determination and lots of practice will help it grow.

Praising*  the process, not the results

It is the effort, hard work, and practice that allow children to achieve their true potential. Recognising your child’s effort, win or lose will help them to understand that what is important is their commitment.

Encouraging participation and collaborative learning

Children learn best when they are immersed in a topic and allowed to explore and discuss with their peers. Make a play date into a learning experience!

Encouraging competency based learning

Children get excited about learning by explaining why it is important and how it will help them grow in the future.  The goal is not just about the ‘right’ answer but for greater understanding at a fundamental level and to want to learn more.

A note on *praise:

How we give praise to our children can help them develop a resilient way of thinking that may well benefit them for the rest of their lives. Research suggests that the type of praise used can have a big impact. Referred to as ‘process praise’ by Dweck in practice this means tailoring your praise slightly to focus on the process rather than the person. So instead of, ‘Great job! You are such a clever boy!’, try ‘Great job! You must have worked really hard!’. Here’s a few more suggestions to get you started;

‘I like the way that you ........’
‘I noticed that you........’
‘Tell me how you .......’
‘Thank you for .......’
‘I love watching you.....’

If this marks a change for you be open with your child about why you are making these changes.

Do you know what triggers YOUR fixed mindset?

Dweck also offers the following advice for educators and parents when considering our OWN fixed mindset triggers.

  • Watch for a fixed-mindset reaction when you face challenges. Do you feel overly anxious, or does a voice in your head warn you away?
  • Watch for it when you face a setback in your  parenting, or when children aren’t listening or learning. Do you feel incompetent or defeated? Do you look for an excuse?
  • Watch to see whether criticism or complaints brings out your fixed mindset. Do you become defensive, angry, or crushed instead of interested in learning from the feedback?
  • Watch what happens when you see another parent or teacher who’s better than you at something you value. Do you feel envious and threatened, or do you feel eager to learn?
  • Accept those thoughts and feelings and work with and through them. And keep working with and through them.


Remember it’s never too late to change your mindset, whether you’re 3 or 83 you can develop a growth mindset!

“Expectations change neurology; if you have low expectations of a child their brain starts to function worse,” says Sherria Hoskins, Portsmouth University professor. “We’re not saying you can turn a child who is struggling at maths into a maths genius. The message is about getting better.”


 Listen to Carol Dweck’s full TED Talk about Growth Mindset ‘The power of believing that you can improve’.   



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