by Martha Tyler
“Growth Mindset” has become a buzz phrase over the past 5-10 years in the educational world – and for good reason!
This mindset was first explained by Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck as the belief that we can all improve our intelligence, creativity, and character in meaningful ways, and that we can do so with effort, persistence, and learning from our mistakes.
A growth mindset encourages a passion for learning and resiliency in facing new challenges. Children who have a growth mindset academically outperform those with a fixed mindset and are more likely to bounce back from failures both in and out of the classroom (Schroder et al, 2017).
Fostering a growth mindset is helpful to the children in our care, but how does that look in day-to-day life? How exactly do we help children move away from a fixed mindset to one of growth and resiliency?
We’ve all witnessed the way a young child’s face lights up when they learn something new. They are so excited to discover new things! As they grow older, their curiosity can become replaced with the need to do things “correctly” or “perfectly.” The feeling of being “bad” at something robs them of the joy of learning something new. They may develop an inner critic, like a bully they cannot escape from. This may lead to low self-esteem or feelings of “what’s the point?”
This is exactly where a growth mindset comes in! By modeling for children at an early age that they can succeed by being persistent, working hard, and learning from their mistakes, we can help them become determined to succeed. How? By talking about our mistakes in front of the children in our care. For more information on helping let go of perfectionism, read this blog post about just that! Growth mindset is also an antidote to perfectionism.
A Language Shift
So how do you teach and foster a growth mindset in a child? The best place to start is to teach something called resiliency. This is the idea that even if something is difficult, you don’t just give up. Instead, you either practice, ask for help, or try it a different way. As a caregiver, you can start practicing using the important word “yet” to achieve this goal.
- “You’re right, you don’t know how to play the violin. . .yet.”
- “Yes, multiplication tables can be tough and I hear you saying you aren’t good at them. . .yet.”
- “Putting your shoes on is hard and you can’t do it by yourself. . .yet. I also had a hard time with shoes when I was your age.”
One little word – yet – has so much power! This type of language is not only encouraging, but also reminds the child that they have the power to turn a negative or frustrating situation into something positive just by being persistent. You can also explain that each time they learn something new, they are growing their brains! Most kids think this is really cool. And, ensuring they know that it’s not a big deal to make a mistake can go a long way.
Offer a Do Over
Often we tell kids that they can learn from their mistakes, but then we don’t provide an opportunity for them to do just that. Offering a chance to try again right away can be so helpful in fostering a growth mindset. When your child makes a mistake, ask them how they can help set it right. You may have to offer extra help at first. We can use the example of knocking over a glass of water here. In a calm voice simply state what you see, “The glass got knocked over. I wonder how we can help clean it up?”
Offer your child the opportunity to do what they can to help. In the glass of water example, you might need to get the towels or paper towels for them, but they can do the wiping and throwing away. Ask your child if they would like to try again right now. It can be tempting to just move on from mistakes, but allowing your child to try again gives them room to grow and immediately try a different method and see if it works. The whole world is new to them. They might not realize that setting your glass on the edge of the table isn’t the best idea.
If this particular misstep is one they do frequently, it is worth having them brainstorm ideas for how to prevent it in the future. Do wait to have that conversation until they are completely calm. A gentle lead-in might sound like, “I was thinking about what happened at lunch earlier. That tricky water glass keeps getting knocked over. I’m curious about what we can do to help keep the water inside the glass and off the floor?” Also, if it happens frequently enough, it might be worth exploring if they need more scaffolding* in this area. Maybe try a few months of cups with lids before returning to glasses of water.
Offering Encouragement Instead of Praise
Using a praise-based phrase like “good job” can be the downfall of a growth mindset. “Good job” leaves the child thinking, “What was good about it? How do I make my grown-up say that to me again?” Encouragement, on the other hand, is specific and focuses on the child’s effort rather than the product. You can try phrases like, “I can tell you worked really hard on that!” or “You didn’t get it at first but you kept trying!” Some other phrases that encourage a growth mindset are, “The first way didn’t work, but you found a different way, well done!” and “You were afraid to try, but you did it anyway. You must be pretty proud of yourself.” When children have the freedom to try without fear of judgment or punishment for failing, they become more confident and willing to try new things.
If you or your child struggle with a fixed mindset, you’re not alone! We can help because we’ve been there too! Book a one-on-one coaching session with us at Compassionate Childcare today!
*Instructional “scaffolding” is a process through which a teacher adds supports for students in order to enhance learning and aid in the mastery of tasks. The teacher does this by systematically building on students’ experiences and knowledge as they are learning new skills.