What is a growth mindset?

The term “growth mindset” refers to the belief about yourself that you are able to develop your skills, talents, and abilities. On the other hand, a “fixed mindset” is when a student or person believes he or she has only a certain amount of skill, talent, or ability.

Of course, we all want to think that we — and our children — have growth mindsets. However, when we look beneath the surface, down to core beliefs, these are not always what our actions dictate.

No matter what we say we believe, actions are always the litmus test. How we approach problems, ways in which we respond to challenges, and what we do when we struggle are all truth tellers to what we believe about ourselves.

Researcher and Stanford Professor Carol Dweck developed the concept of growth mindset and discovered some fascinating news about how the human brain is wired.

Brain science tells us that our opportunities to struggle actually do stretch our brains’ capabilities.

As you think about the previous statement, are you asking yourselves the same questions we are?

Here are some practical ideas for recognizing your child’s mindset and helping your child shift from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset.

How do I know if my child has a growth mindset?

Well, here’s where the good news comes in. Your child’s mindset will shift depending on his or her age, academic experiences, peer observations, logical deductions, societal cues and formal learning. 

Some studies even indicate that younger students (early to mid-elementary school) tend to believe they can grow their intellect, especially as it relates to a particular subject such as writing or math. However, other studies seem to show that middle school students tend to believe they are either “good at” something or not. Yet even more research has shown that high school students come back around and start to see intellect on a continuum, not as a fixed point.

Why is this important?

It helps to know that your child will change and shift his belief systems about himself over time. This should encourage you, as a parent, to know that while your student may believe she is simply “not good at” math today, she could shift in how she views her math capabilities in a year or two. 

Of course, with good news, we also want to take in the more constructive news. That means that as our students shift in mindsets or beliefs about their intellect and talent, they can also dig their proverbial beliefs into the ground if they’re exposed to several years’ worth of “not being good at” something.

An example is when someone is repeatedly told they’re just “not a math person,” or that they “don’t have a creative bone in their body.” These are phrases that many well-meaning adults say about themselves and/or others. While it’s important to note that one or two utterances of this kind of phrase won’t hurt your child in the long run, a repeated cycle of hearing they’re “not a math person” can make it more difficult for their mindset to shift and for them to truly believe they can grow in their math capabilities, for example.

What is the connection between struggle, growth, and success?

It’s important to view this information through the lens of hope.

According to a TED Talk by Angela Duckworth where she points back to Dweck’s research, students can learn that failure isn’t permanent and that the human brain’s wiring means they can actually “get better at” something they used to not be great at doing.

When students were taught more about brain science, data showed that they started to see challenges as part of the learning process—not as a fixed conclusion.

One thing Duckworth discovered in her research is that student success was not necessarily related to talent. Instead, a child who believes he or she can improve probably will.

If a student works hard, accepts failure as a part of the process, and perseveres in the midst of challenge, that student will very likely overcome weaknesses and grow. This is a much stronger predictor of success than talent alone.

What can I do to make a difference in this key indicator of success?

For parents, here are some of the ways we can encourage our children to develop a growth  mindset.

1. Try to praise a child’s effort rather than his or her “grade” or final product.

2. Be specific when you are helping your child view a successful attempt or a failure. For example, instead of saying “great job” or “better luck next time,” consider how you can give intentional, focused feedback. You might say to the challenged student, “Your hard work and commitment are something I admire. I know you are going to see this through and finish well.” To the student who aces the project or test, you might say, “You wrote a strong essay because you paid attention to the writing steps, and you were patient enough to stick with them so that your essay is now a polished final draft.”

3. Do your best to approach your own life challenges with a growth mindset. Our children hear what we say about ourselves and our own failures; they watch when we say, “I guess I’ll never be good at budgeting,” or “He’s always just had a natural knack for numbers, but that’s not me.” 

Yes, it’s easy to poke fun at ourselves in a lighthearted way. But it is important for all of us to remember that our brains can change. They can recover from previous challenges, and our outlook about success can also shift.

Finding your own way through challenging times helps your child understand that challenge is not the same as failure, and failure does not tell the whole story. It is simply part of the journey.

4. Preview a few of these YouTube videos about successful people, and decide if watching them with your child would make sense (given their age, interests, and maturity level). You may want to start with popular authors J.K. Rowling or Madeleine L’Engle. But if you Google the name or activity your student loves and add “and failure,” you’ll probably find an article or video that reveals they too experienced challenges and/or bumps along the journey. In these, your child hears the truth that failure is often what prompts the persevering person toward success.

Sometimes, our definition of success needs to change too. We think that “the best grade” or getting into a certain college is the pinnacle of victory, when in reality, our perspective needs to shift.

What if my child’s current educational format is making it tough for him or her to see through the lens of growth and progress?

If you think that your student’s definition of success is being hindered in his or her current form of education, we’d love to talk. Learnwell is built upon the principle that all students are wired with gifts, talents, and passions, and all students can grow through hard work, passionate perseverance, and a strong sense of who they are. 

Do you live in the north Georgia area? Join us at our next Discover Learnwell event to learn why we’re passionate about students understanding who they are and how they’re wired. You will also hear from real parents about why they chose Learnwell, what a day in the life of a Learnwell student looks like, and you’ll have the chance to ask questions about the hybrid school model we offer.

What if I am unsure about my own influence on my child’s growth mindset?

As parents, it’s easy to think we are a failure if our kids are not learning something we know they need in school or in life. But let us encourage you; we’re all human beings, not human doings, so it’s important for us not to measure our own worth on how well our students are doing.

Do you live outside of the north Georgia area? One reason we started our Learnwell Navigator Program was to resource parents like you — who felt like they weren’t able to give their students what they needed. For whatever reason, their students could not get their needs met in a traditional school setting. But homeschooling was either too much work or full of pitfalls and overwhelming questions to answer.

There is another option — homeschooling with help. Our Learnwell Navigator Program restores your sanity by giving you:

  • Time: We save you time by planning lessons for you that are just right for your student.
  • Energy: You will actually have the energy to enjoy homeschooling your student rather than making sure all the curriculum is chosen correctly and the scope and sequence line up with your child’s abilities.
  • Focus: You and your child will be able to concentrate on what matters most: learning, spending time together, and pursuing hobbies or activities that have long been neglected due to the busy pace of life.

Are you interested in finding out more about how our Learnwell Navigator Program works? Download our resource guide.