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Nurturing a Growth Mindset


It sounds corny, but there really is power in believing in yourself. While we all have limitations in what we’re able to achieve, anyone can grow their talents if they have the right attitude.


Growth Vs Fixed Mindset Infograph by Little Organics

Take for example two kids, we’ll call them Child A and Child B who are both learning guitar. Child A has a fixed mindset and believes people are either good at things, or they’re bad at them. Child A is a talented musician and learns how to play a popular song very quickly. After learning the song, Child A shows off to their friends who are amazed by his ability to play the guitar. Child A tries to learn more difficult songs but becomes quickly discouraged by how hard they are. Child A thinks you need to be older to be able to play these difficult tunes and ends up playing easy songs every day for 30 minutes.   

Child B is not a talented musician but has a growth mindset and believes with enough work it’s possible to learn anything. Child B struggles to learn how to play songs that they’ve seen younger people learn quite easily. Despite this, Child B enjoys the challenge and knows they will feel good when they’re finally able to learn the song. Child B doesn’t show off to their friends, but instead concentrates on more difficult songs. Child B knows they will need lots of help with it, so asks their parents for a guitar teacher and practises hard songs every day for 10 minutes.

We won’t insult your intelligence by asking you which child you think becomes the better musician after a year. The point of the story is to demonstrate the difference between a fixed mindset and growth mindset. These are terms coined by Dr Carol Dweck, a psychologist whose research has led to remarkable developments in boosting a child’s self-esteem and motivation.

The best news is a fixed mindset isn’t fixed. For years neuroscientists have been saying the brain is like any other muscle in your body. The more it’s worked, the more it grows.

This sounds great in theory and we would all prefer our kids to be more like Child B than Child A. But kids aren’t robots and we can’t magically program them into becoming musicians, chefs or scientists by telling them to ‘work hard at it’.

However, there are several ways you can nurture a growth mindset in your little ones, so they’ll more readily embrace challenges in the future.

1.       Don’t praise your child for what they’re good at. Encourage them with things they’re struggling with.

Praising children is great for raising their self-esteem, but Dr. Dweck cautions too much of the wrong type of praise can have a negative effect. Statements like “you’re a great artist” and “you’re naturally good at basketball”, might be true, but it can stop them from trying to get better in those areas.

To prevent this happening, Dr. Dweck says praise is best directed towards areas your child is struggling with. The trick is to encourage their efforts, rather than praising their results. Here’s a video that shows an example of how this works:


2.       Demonstrate the value of the process, not the results.

A common question kids ask when they want to get out of doing math, is “what’s the point of doing math, if we’re not going to use it when we’re older?”. The best reply to this is “when you do math, you’re exercising parts of the brain you can use for other things”.

Every time a child struggle in these subjects, the brain forms new pathways to help them get better at it. Spending an hour trying to understand something complicated helps grow their brain. Getting a correct answer is simply a result of how much their brain has grown.

3.       Identify when mistakes are becoming harmful

Children can often become frustrated by mistakes, especially in a classroom environment. They may compare their test scores with others and feel upset that they didn’t do as well as they expected. They may also feel they tried harder than others in the class and become ashamed of doing worse than them.

Look for common signs of mistakes doing harm. You will know our child better than anyone else and be able to see when they lose self-esteem after making errors. The next step is to help them work through it.


4.       Reframe the way they see mistakes

According to popular homeschooling website, Khan Academy, mistakes are a great opportunity for helping the brain to grow. There are different types of mistakes a child might make, such as being in too much of a rush. This is an opportunity to learn how to slow down and develop patience when doing tasks. It’s that old adage, slow and steady wins the race. Cliché but true. 

Reviewing mistakes is an even better opportunity for brain growth. After studying for hours and not doing so well on a test, most children’s reactions would be to throw away the paper and never look at it again. But little do they know that the brain had already started making connections to understand the problem. Throwing it away wastes all that potential for becoming smarter than they were before!


5.       Help them deal with frustration

The hardest thing about developing a growth mindset, is that it’s really hard to do! Like trying to lose belly fat or build muscles, developing intelligence is tough. Even kids who have a strong growth mindset prefer to do easy things that are fun, like playing video games or chatting online.    

If you see your child getting frustrated, let them know it’s normal and it’s something they can work through. According to Khan Academy, a good way to do this is through a three-step process. Let your child be honest about how they feel and recognise the emotion. Remind themselves it’s good to feel some frustration. Not only does it mean they’re human, but it means they’re on their way to learning something. Lastly, take some timeout to reset, by taking some time out from the challenge and then coming back to it after a few minutes of rest.