Building a growth mindset begins at home, with the parents. So does building a fixed mindset! Let’s examine the clues to see what kind of mindset culture your home fosters, and you will get clues into what mindset your child is developing.
Reframing Genius to Help Our Children Become Genius Learners
If your child asks you the meaning of the word genius, what will your reply be?
Most of us would say: “a genius is someone who is really smart and can do all sorts of amazing things because they are so smart”. Right? (If you are like me, you will probably say: “hey, nice that you are curious about it. Why don’t you look it up in the dictionary?” Or, “what do you think a genius is? And Now that you know what it means, who do you think is a genius?”).
Either way, the child will arrive at the dictionary definition of a genius.
[For the record, a genius is defined as an exceptionally intelligent person or one with exceptional skill in a particular area of activity.
It’s time to reframe what genius means.
The geniuses of the world are not smarter than you or me. They are simply more effective learners.
They absorb, understand, recall, connect, and apply knowledge better than you and me.
They know that effective learning is not an ‘automatic’ process.
So, they constantly work on getting better at learning. They have a growth mindset.
Recognizing this is the first step in helping your children learn to develop their own learning strategy.
Have You Read Our Parent-friendly Guide to Everything About Learning Mindsets?
How can I Know if My Child has a Growth or Fixed Mindset?
We often ask ourselves, “How do I know if my child has a learning mindset?”
Building a growth mindset begins at home, with the parents. So, start by asking what mindset culture your home fosters, and you will get clues into what mindset your child is developing.
First, what are the prevalent beliefs in your home?
- Everyone has abilities that can be developed and made stronger
- We value creativity and innovation
- We reward our children for taking reasonable risks
- We encourage teamwork and collaboration
- We tend to focus on blame and fault when mistakes happen
- We often talk about who gets credit for doing the work
- We are competitive, and that means all about the winning
- We worship talent - when our kids are good at something, we encourage them to focus on that talent
Growth Mindset blossoms when the house and school has a culture that embodies the growth mindset.
Next, observe your child and make an honest assessment to understand if your child is tending to build a fixed mindset:
- Observe how your child talks about their failures and mistakes
- Do they focus on looking smart/ being right or growth and value creation
- Do they act enthusiastic about an activity till they are getting it right, but start losing interest as the level of challenge goes up?
- Do they avoid challenges and new tasks unless they are able to predict the outcome? Are they uncomfortable with ambiguity in a task’s outcomes?
- How do they react when they see a child who is doing better than them at something?
- When they go into a challenge, are they more about “Will I look smart or stupid?” or are they excited about “What can I learn from this?”
- When they don’t get something in a few tries, do they give up and say “I can’t do this” or do they say “I can’t do this yet but I have a plan to get there?”
Children with a growth mindset in the learning context understand that skills and abilities are malleable. They see that they can get better at anything but also that they need a plan to help them get there. Those are the skills parents need to help them build.
Also read: 18 Ways Parents Can Help Children Develop a Growth Mindset
Can a Growth Mindset be Taught?
I do not know if mindset can be taught, but as parents, we can do many things to facilitate the development of, and provide an enabling environment so that the child can learn to develop a growth mindset.
But it’s not enough for our child to just think positive, have intent and want to improve.
Effective learning with a growth mindset needs deliberate thinking and deliberate action by the child, with parents as the supporting cast.
There are many small things we can do everyday, at home, to talk about, activate and reinforce a growth mindset. The important thing to remember is, it is never too late to help develop a growth mindset. Your child can do it, and so can you!
In the context of effective learning, the key for parents is to remember the five components that make it possible. These are:
- A Growth Mindset
- Effective Learning Skills (including study skills)
- Regular practice
- Over a sustained period of time
In fact, another study by Dr.Dweck showed that just improving study skills did not lead to an improvement in a child’s grade. But when study skills were combined with a strong growth mindset, over a sustained period of time, there were marked improvements in performance.
Maybe there is a formula for effective learning after all!!
Growth mindset + Learning Skills + Learning Techniques X (Time + Effort) = Improved Results!
Also read: 11 Growth Mindset Myths and Misconceptions Parent's Should Clear Up Right Now!
How To Know If My Child Is Moving From Fixed To Growth Learning Mindset?
Look for specific behavioral changes, that suggest your child can more effectively:
- Is more open to taking on learning challenges
- Is more resilient in the face of setbacks
- Can demonstrate progress in their learning journey in some tangible ways
- Can effectively use learning tools and strategies to enable their learning process
Also observe changes (evolution) in:
- How they respond to choices: do they pick safe choices with known outcomes, or do they pick the challenge? For example, picking a path for senior study is an important trigger point. What path are they choosing and why?
- How they respond to roadblocks: are they able to reflect and ask “what can I do to overcome this and move forward?” Are they able to make mindful decisions and actions to move forward?
- How they respond to failures/ mistakes: think in binaries of good/bad to decide if they should quit or stick with it and seek alternate ways to make progress?
- How they respond to feedback: take decisive action or tend to ignore or avoid it
- How they respond to others’ performance: makes an excuse for their own performance or justifies the others’ performance (she’s lucky/ he was born with it), or focuses on improving their own performance?
The Role of the Parents in Shaping a Learning Mindset
Parents tend to react to their child’s attempt to learn something new and their mistakes/ failures in typically one of these ways:
- Offering encouragement
- Praising the child: you are so clever/ smart/ dedicated/ brave etc.
- Giving hope: you can do it! Keep trying. You’re getting better every day, think positive!
- Demotivating and discouraging: you’ll never be good at this, why don't you focus on something you are good at?
- Threaten: you will fail if you don't try harder
- Engaging: What do you think you can do to get better? What’s working for you? What's hard for you?
With all of these responses, children tend to build a growth or fixed mindset.
But for now, just become aware of how you tend to respond to such trigger moments.
Chances are, you will tend to praise and blindly encourage the child.
Thanks to the self-esteem movement of the 90’s, parents are constantly telling children how amazing they are, as a way to motivate them.
Some psychologists suggest empty praise has actually made people label even mediocre efforts as amazing, and led to children becoming scared of challenge and failure as they don’t wish to lose the accolades they have become so used to.
In other growth minded related articles, we discuss why neither praise, encouragement, hard work or positive thinking alone are enough to help the child build a growth mindset, and may, in fact, be damaging to that effort. We also talk about what you can do to help your child build a growth mindset, no matter where they stand today, and what stage of learning they are at.
Aside from parents, other authority figures such as relatives, teachers and community members often make damaging comments from empty praise to outright censure. Peers are harsh to judge and quick to laugh, even at one’s sincere efforts to try and do something.
Another culprit is the system of standardized testing prevalent in schools. Students get conditioned to see these as a direct verdict on how smart or dumb they are, in comparison to their class mates, often for subjects that are challenging for them.
By and by, they start dreading the labels that follow a poor performance and avoid the subject as much as they can. They develop a fixed mindset that they will never be able to catch up.
In fact, Alfred Binet, the inventor of the first practical IQ test, was ironically a growth mindset learner. He also railed against the abuse of this test as a tool to measure standard intelligence.
All these reasons put together are why it's so crucial for parents to help children learn to love learning, develop learning to learn skills, focus on regular improvements, and have the self-awareness to build their own learning strategies and styles.
With a growth mindset and positive self awareness about the learning process, tests become just another self-evaluation milestone in a lifelong learning marathon. We realize that test results are not a direct judgment of us as individuals, but a reflection of where we stand today in a particular learning effort. We know that with the right learning effort, we can get better.
With a growth mindset, comments and judgements from others do not deter as much, since we understand that we are training our brain to grow smarter, and that mistakes and failures are just part of the process, not the end game.
In fact, there are some schools that are replacing the word FAIL with NOT THERE YET.
And I think that is a glorious and liberating tweak in terminology that can fill the most fixed mindset with hope for improvement.
Now it’s your turn to get rid of the clutter of labels in your home, and fill it with possibilities instead!
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