The Growth Mindset: A Powerful Tool in Raising Independent Children

Carol S.Dweck, a psychologist from Stanford University set forth the difference it can make by adopting a growth mindset over a fixed one. In her book Mindset the New Psychology of Success, Dr.Dweck consistently explains the positive changes having a growth mindset can make in business, relationships, parenting or school. The book gets high praise from Guy Kawasaki, author of The Art of the Start.

“If you manage people or are a parent (which is a form of managing people), drop everything and read Mindset.”

What is in Dr.Dweck’s message that thinkers, business leaders and motivational speakers and writers are finding so powerful?

Her studies on the fixed and growth mindset have been put down with clarity in an infographic by Nigel Holmes.

Dweck bases her findings after conducting numerous studies with adults and children, some just in kindergarten. The fixed-mindsetters felt everything was based on ability alone and that everything must be done perfectly. If they felt that the task at hand was a challenge and the climb uphill, they gave up and found reasons to reconcile with their willingness to try. Fixed mindsetters also seek quick gratification, losing interest if they did not find quick success. They looked down as other who put in more effort as being weak in some way or not naturally gifted. With this mindset it was not unusual for them to justify their self-prophecies.

We will look at this book through the filter of parenting and teaching. Parents and teachers with a fixed mindset can do irreparable damage by hardwiring children with messages like “ Only those who have the ability can do it”; “ You are smart/dumb so it’s normal/easy to understand why”. Children who grow and prove to be competent and useful, continue to feel like they are inadequate or haven’t passed the test so to speak. Of course, most of these adults have in turn been indoctrinated in the same way and so the message perpetuates. It is not unusual to hear teachers and parents say, “Either you have it or you don’t”. What a crushing verdict to give a child at the beginning of their life.

In the context of academics the I.Q of students is often taken as a benchmark. Dweck gives us the backstory which is quite startling. “It may surprise you to know that a big champion of this view was Alfred Binet, the inventor of the IQ test. Wasn’t the IQ test meant to summarize children’s unchangeable intelligence? In fact, no. Binet, a Frenchman working in Paris in the early twentieth century, designed this test to identify children who were not profiting from the Paris public school, so that the new educational programs could be designed to get them back on track. Without denying individual differences in children’s intellects, he believed that education and practice could bring about fundamental changes in intelligence. Here is a quote from one of his major books, Modern Ideas About Children, in which he summarizes his work with hundreds of children with learning difficulties.

A few modern philosophers...assert that an individual’s intelligence is a fixed quantity, a quantity which cannot be increased. We must protest and react against this brutal pessimism…

With practice, training, and above all, method, we manage to increase our attention, our memory, our judgement and literally to become more intelligent than we were before.

Everyday we see children believing that they are made of a certain unbreakable mold and that therefore things are set. Kindergarteners were given puzzles as part of the study. Children with a fixed mindset did not seek new puzzles after solving the ones they could. Children with the growth mindset were keen to try new puzzles, even more interested when they did not get in in the first try and did not think of it as a character flaw.

They just saw themselves as trying and needing more time to solve the puzzle. They saw the trying as an integral part of improving and learning.The children with a fixed mindset, the focus is on succeeding rather than trying or understanding.

In the fixed mindset everything is set, unchangeable. So intelligence, personality, character all become the parameters to measure up by. This fuels a deep need to prove oneself, not look like one is faltering or struggling. Contrast this with the growth mindset where the individual has a set of qualities that can be cultivated through effort. There is always great scope for improvement with effort and practice. The scope to change and grow is always open and is not dependent on ability alone.

What this means to a child is that they do not see themselves locked in by limitations, but armed with skills that can be honed to fly high. Imagine this in real terms. A fixed mindset child will perceive everything through a lens of winning and losing, while a child with a growth mindset will see it through the lens of trying and increasing possibilities. What a difference that can make in a child’s life!

Dweck offers parents and teachers guidelines on how they can grow their mindset and help the children under their care develop a growth mindset.

  • For children everything their parents say is a message. It is important then that those messages indicate that they are the child’s partner in learning and development.
  • When praising the child, rather than simply praising the outcome alone, parents can also praise the child for the process -the choices they made, the methods they used and their effort. The child begins to appreciate that the process is as rewarding as a positive outcome.
  • If the child ends up faltering, listen to the child. Then discuss what can be done the next time for the required outcome. This helps the child think about the gaps and how to fix them. This ensures the child does not feel defeated and continues to learn.
  • Setting goals for children is a form of forward thinking and planning by parents. However parents must pause to see if the child has real interest and is willing to put in the elbow grease for the goal. Unrealistic goals can lead to heartbreak and blaming.
  • Teachers can set high learning goals for children. They must ensure that the path to achieve it is also provided so that all students give it a good go. Deck recommends that teachers present topics in growth frameworks and give students process feedback.
  • If you have a child who learn slower, pause to see how different methods can be adopted to help them understand better. The goal is not to finish the curriculum but to help children understand the curriculum and sometimes not in prescribed ways alone.
  • Coaches can help athletes who they train to focus on their game and how to improve it by discussing their process. This will encourage a growth mindset and the team will start to think as one. Reward effort and committment.In a fixed mindset scenario the focus is only on the medals or trophies won, whatever the cost.
  • Adults in a child’s life have to perceive themselves as guides rather than enforcers or taskmasters. They must help a child fulfill her potential and help them have a growth mindset.

Once parents and teachers adopt the growth mindset they must continue to do so and not lapse into fixed mindset routines. The results that can be achieved by using the growth mindset are truly worth trying for. It can be an enriching experience for the child and adult and the basis for a solid future.

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