Fixed Mindset or Growth Mindset?
In order to determine whether your child ascribes mostly to a fixed mindset or a growth mindset, you can simply observe their common reactions to different situations.
Use the guided questions below to help determine their current mindset:
|Do they tend to…|
|avoid new or challenging tasks?||Yes||Sometimes||No|
|give up quickly when something is too hard?||Yes||Sometimes||No|
|ignore feedback or criticism?||Yes||Sometimes||No|
|attribute their successes/failures to intelligence (i.e. “I got an A, I’m so smart!” or “I got an F, I must be stupid.”)?||Yes||Sometimes||No|
|become disheartened upon seeing someone else’s success?||Yes||Sometimes||No|
|see effort as pointless?||Yes||Sometimes||No|
|try to hide their mistakes?||Yes||Sometimes||No|
|stop when something is “good enough”?||Yes||Sometimes||No|
If you answered mostly “no” to the above questions, then your child is probably already using growth mindset thinking! You can encourage them to keep growing and challenging themselves with new learning opportunities.
If you answered mostly “sometimes,” or a mixture of “yes” and “no,” your child is most likely ascribing to what some educators call a “mixed mindset.” This is exactly what it sounds like: a mix between a fixed and growth mindset. This is a great start; it means your child is beginning to associate their learning with growth mindset principles. You can help them continue to grow by encouraging growth mindset reactions, and gently redirecting them at times when they are using a fixed mindset.
If you answered mostly “yes”, it means your child has the opportunity to begin using a growth mindset to transform their learning! Next time you observe your child showing any of the above reactions, use the strategies below to help redirect them toward a growth mindset.
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Shifting Your Mindset… One Word at a Time
So what can we do to promote a growth mindset in our young learners?
1. Teach them what it means.
Don’t be afraid to talk to your child about the importance of having a growth mindset! If they are old enough to understand that they are learning, they can also understand that the way they think about their learning matters. Many young learners are excited by the idea of neuroplasticity; I like to refer to it as Super Brain when talking to second graders, and they are always excited to tell me about the cool things their Super Brain is going to learn next.
You can use play dough to demonstrate malleability, or show them how streets in your neighborhood that are more frequently used are often bigger and well-taken care of (just like those brain pathways). There are also plenty of books you can share with them about growth mindset.
Once they understand what it means to have a growth mindset, you can start building one together!
2. Use helpful praise.
One of the greatest motivators for young learners is receiving praise from parents, teachers, and peers. When cultivating a growth mindset, it is important to be selective about the kind of praise that we give; different types of praise can have vastly different effects on how the child receives it.
In developing a growth mindset, we are trying to instill the idea that achievement comes from hard work, determination, and the willingness to overcome challenges. These are the specific qualities we should be praising, and therefore encouraging.
By praising qualities that are perceived as fixed, we can actually encourage young learners to develop a fixed mindset—the opposite of what we want! Unfortunately, many of the typical examples of “fixed mindset praise” come as second nature to us, because on the surface, they seem harmless and encouraging. Now that we know the effect they have on students’ mindsets, however, it’s time to rewire those pathways in our own brains, and redirect our positive praise!
The most effective praise is the kind that addresses the process of learning, rather than the qualities of the person. Try redirecting your praise in the following ways:
|“You’re so smart!”||“I can tell you’ve been working hard!”|
|“I knew you could do it!”||“It was challenging, but you knew you could do it!”|
|“You finished so quickly!”||“You seem ready for the next challenge!”|
|“You are so good at English!” (or math, or science…)||“Your studying in English has really paid off!”|
3. Use growth mindset language.
You can also observe the way your child talks about their learning, and guide them to use more growth-oriented language. It doesn’t hurt to use it yourself, either! Children learn how to talk about things by listening to the people around them. By gently redirecting fixed mindset language, and acting as an example of someone who uses it often, the process of rewiring those fixed pathways is already in motion.
|Fixed Mindset Language||Growth Mindset Language|
|“This is too hard.”||“This will take some time and effort.”|
|“I’m bad at this.”||“I am still learning how to do this.”|
|“I messed up.”||“I can learn from my mistakes.”|
|“This is good enough.”||“I can make this even better.”|
|“I give up.”||“It’s time to try some new strategies.”|
|“I am really good at this.”||“I am working really hard.”|
|“He/she is better than me at this.”||“I can learn from him/her.”|
And, when all else fails, you can always count on the power of “yet”! Many fixed mindset reactions can be transformed simply by adding this word to the end. I don’t know how… yet! This doesn’t make sense… yet! I don’t have a growth mindset… yet!
4. Make mistakes!
Of course, maintaining a growth mindset in every situation is difficult—it’s not easy to get a test back with a failing grade, or to be chastised by our boss for a mistake we’ve made, and think, “Hooray! I’m learning!” No, it takes effort to unlearn the fixed mindset reactions that have felt natural to us for so long—those pathways in our brains are very strong!
But as we now know, what we can learn is worth only as much as the effort we’ve put toward learning it, and this includes learning to adjust our mindset. Each mistake is an opportunity to learn, and to strengthen those learning pathways. Little by little, we can rewire our thoughts and open them up to endless potential growth.
All we need is the right mindset.
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