What is your first reaction to any challenge that is thrown at you, be it on a piece of paper or in real life? Do you feel helpless, miserable, and incapable of handling the situation, and it feels like the end of the world, or do you feel you can face it, focus on strategies that can be employed, take help when needed and work towards overcoming the situation, with the belief that this is a stepping stone for something bigger and better?
How does your child react when faced with a really challenging math problem or language homework to complete? Do these reactions sound familiar to you? “I'm just not good at it!”, “I can’t do this homework”, “I don't think I will ever understand this concept”, “I give up!”, or does your child say things like “I can’t do this yet, but I think I’m getting there”, or “I think with a little help or hint I can solve this problem”. If your answer is the latter, then bravo! Your child has a growth mindset!
What is a “growth mindset”?
As the name suggests, it is a mindset where we believe that we have the potential to grow, that our intelligence and abilities can be improved with the right strategies and over time. A willingness to confront challenges and embrace them, a passion and zeal for learning, and looking at failure as a foundation for growth are all characteristics associated with a growth mindset.
Why is it important?
Having a growth mindset is a way of life. Quite clearly, it is not about a child doing his/her homework right or getting good grades in an exam. It is about how one can face life and its challenges better with a growth mindset. It is as important for children as it is for adults. However, instilling this philosophy at a young age will ensure your child has the right priorities going forward. And as adults, it is never too late for us to imbibe this in ourselves too.
In a study of adolescents conducted by Prof. Dweck and her colleagues, they found a stark difference in the reactions of students who were praised for their ability (“Wow! You got this right. You must be really smart”) versus those who were praised for their efforts (“Wow! You got this right. You must have worked really hard for this”). Interestingly, the ability-praise pushed students into a fixed mindset. They did not want to pick up anything challenging that would allow them to learn and grow, for the fear of failing, or exposing their lack of ability to deal with it. On the other hand, about 90% of the effort-praise students wanted to take up something challenging to learn something new.
Let’s take a simple situation of your child successfully solving an easy jigsaw puzzle or sudoku. When offered with a choice of another easy puzzle (/reattempting the same one) or a more challenging one, which one is your child likely to choose? Children with a fixed mindset will prefer to pick another easy one, so they know they can crack it and “win”, thus feeling happy and proud about their achievement, while those with a growth mindset will look for a challenging one, to learn more and go beyond their current potential. “Winning” for them is about learning more and becoming smarter, and not staying smart through comfortable exercises.
How can I inculcate a growth mindset in my child?
As parents and teachers, what can we do to develop a growth mindset among our children? (And consciously develop it ourselves too!) Here are a few points for us to keep in mind.
- It’s okay to make mistakes. In fact, it’s good to make mistakes!
Mistakes should be seen as opportunities to improve oneself and not as a failure. Jo Boaler, a Math educator and professor at Stanford University, in her book “The Elephant in the Classroom”, talks of how the brain grows every time a mistake is made, and that teachers and parents should encourage children to make mistakes. A day where a child gets all their work correct is an opportunity lost to learn. Getting something right obviously makes a child feel good, but that is not the most productive learning environment she says. It is important for children also to know that it is productive to struggle and make mistakes, and be comfortable about them.
- Relish the challenge
Any challenge when taken positively and enjoyed, like kids would in a game, helps face them without the fear of failure. Enjoying everything we do is key to success.
- Talk the language of growth mindset
Instead of “I can’t do this”, say “I haven’t done this yet”. Instead of “You’re so smart, you got that right!”, say “Your hard work and effort has paid off, you got that right!”. “Yet” is a very powerful word, according to Prof. Dweck. It shows hope instead of despair. Appreciate effort instead of capabilities.
- Acknowledge and embrace imperfections
No one is perfect. While we all strive for perfection, it is important that we are conscious of our weaknesses and work towards eliminating them.
- Value the process over the result
“The journey is more important than the destination”. The learning process provides a lot of insights and valuable feedback than the result itself. What we learn and incorporate in the future is more valuable than succeeding on the very first attempt.
- Provide constructive criticism
How we say something is as important as what we say. Providing constructive criticism plays a crucial role in shaping a child’s confidence. Merely appreciating the effort at something that was not successful isn’t enough for your child to succeed the next time. Analyzing what went wrong and providing feedback to reflect upon will help your child grow. Providing encouraging words to do better next time works wonders.
- Appreciate effort before talent
Appreciate the effort and hard work that was put into a task, instead of making it seem like it was the child’s inherent talent or smartness that led to the task being completed.
- Be willing to look dumb in the company of others
How often do you stop yourself from asking what you may think is a “lame” question, for the fear of appearing dumb in front of others? It is okay to mess things up occasionally. It is okay to not be in control of everything all the time. This helps explore new domains, take risks, without the fear of being watched, judged and failing. Allow your child to do the same.
- Actively encourage taking on challenges
Whenever a new opportunity presents itself, be the first to grab it, and encourage your child to do it too, however difficult or challenging it may seem.
Developing a growth mindset is a continuous process. It is not only beneficial for children but equally important and applicable for adults too. However, as seen in this blog, it isn’t easy or straightforward to implement. It requires a lot of conscious efforts from us towards ourselves and our children to help make our lives more fulfilling. And fulfilling it will be, surely!
- By Kshama Chakravarthy
Kshama heads the teacher curriculum team at Cuemath. She has a masters degree in Mathematics and Education- two of her major passions. She has been in the field of Math education for over 11 years now and has donned many hats, from designing and developing curriculum to teaching students to training teachers. She enjoys being in the midst of nature in her free time and tries to adopt an eco-friendly lifestyle.