Do you think talent and intelligence are something you are born with? Or do you believe you can do anything with hard work, grit and resilience? If you believe that talent and intelligence is something you are born with (and stuck with), then it’s likely that you have a fixed mindset. The good news is that scientific research conducted over 30 years has proven that by changing your mindset, you can achieve in ways you never dreamed of – and that having a growth mindset produces high achievers in school and beyond.
Growth vs Fixed Mindset
Let’s begin by understanding more about fixed and growth mindsets, and how to identify what your mindset is and why it’s important – especially for raising children. The concept of growth mindset was developed by educational psychologist and Stanford University professor Carol Dweck, and it became popular through her bestselling book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. Growth mindset research and in class testing over many years by Professor Dweck and her research team demonstrated a major positive change in children and adults who applied a growth mindset instead of a fixed mindset to their process of learning. (Dweck, 2006) This change was a direct result of being taught how to approach tasks using a mindset that encouraged collaboration, experimentation, effort and failure as integral to the learning journey.
Growth mindset isn’t just for educational learning. It also has a profound effect on personal relationships, professional success and many other dimensions of life. The impact of growth mindset on creating mentally resilient children is why it is so important to teach them (and parents and teachers) growth mindset thinking as early as possible, and incorporate it in their approach to learning (Dweck, 2015). A mindset, according to Professor Dweck’s definition, is a perception that people hold about themselves. Holding the belief that you are intelligent or unintelligent is a simple example of a mindset. People may also have a mindset related to their personal or professional lives, like being good or bad at something. You might say ‘I’m terrible at maths’ or ‘I could never learn a language’ and truly believe that you would never have success in these areas.
Failure Makes You Smarter, Grit Makes You Stronger
People with a fixed mindset believe that basic personal traits and situations like talent and intellect are permanent states you are born with and can’t change. You either have talent, or you don’t. If, for instance, you believe you are ‘dumb’ at certain things, like maths or language learning, you won’t attempt to try learning them, and therefore reinforce that belief. Another thing that differentiates fixed and growth mindsets is perception and reaction to failure. People with a fixed mindset are more likely to believe that if they fail at anything, all their abilities will be doubted, and that even a small failure is a big problem. We can see that behaviour in some world famous sports people or musicians; once they have achieved success, they often have catastrophic personal meltdowns because of the pressure to perform. People with a growth mindset, on the other hand, don’t see failure as bad or limiting – obstacles are opportunities to improve and learn, and through solving problems they get smarter.
The antidote to a fixed mindset is adopting a growth mindset. With a growth mindset, people believe that effort creates talent, and skills are learned over time through trial and error. Growth mindset thinking reinforces the belief that we are all born with the ability to learn and that all of us learn differently. The capacity to ‘positively’ fail, where individuals learn from their mistakes – and use that learning as growth towards achieving is a key difference in the growth mindset approach. You often see this mindset in famous entrepreneurs and scientists like Jack Ma, Steve Jobs and Einstein – they all saw failure as a way to eliminate a less effective method of getting to their goal, and they kept on trying without attachment to what the outcome would be. Along the way, they created many new innovations as a result which have great value and intellectual property.
Strongly underpinning growth mindset is an individuals resilience or grit. In her book Grit – The Power and Passion of Perseverance, best-selling author, teacher, parent and scientist Professor Angela Duckworth documented her research on using growth mindset techniques and her own ‘grit scale’ as a way of scientifically studying how people, especially children, develop resilience to achieve goals. She strongly believes that intelligence and success aren’t luck, but a result of hard work and mindset discipline.
As learning a new skill takes time and will inevitably involve setbacks all along the way, resilience and perseverance need to be developed from childhood and sustained. Students who use a growth mindset approach have been shown to learn more and embrace challenges and failures enthusiastically as opportunities rather than setbacks. This is particularly critical between the ages of 0-6, birth to early childhood where everything we learn is new. A major study of neuroscience and children by Dr Pam Winter confirmed that ‘early experiences either enhance or diminish innate potential, laying either a strong or a fragile platform on which all further development and learning of the person, the body and the mind is built’ (Winter, 2010). Neuroscientists now know that at this age our brains are like sponges and we are able to take on vast amounts of new information and are born ready to learn. If growth mindset language and practices are incorporated by parents from birth, children become more resilient and more curious, and they see failure as only a small setback on the road to acquiring knowledge – not a reason to stop trying.
Teaching growth mindset to children and adults begins with changing the language we use to describe our behaviour. This sounds simple, but can be difficult for adults with a lifetime of neural pathway development and entrenched behaviours. Here are some examples of how subtle changes in language can shift our mindsets:
Praise the Process not the Person
The main point that Professor Dweck makes is that a growth mindset is developed through how children are praised. She doesn’t encourage praise which focuses making the child feel important, and instead recommends praise that focuses on the process of learning. An example of this would be saying ‘I can see how you really worked hard to solve that math problem even though you struggled at times.’ instead of saying ‘Wow look at your math grades you are really smart.’ In her research, Dweck proved that using strategy based praise actually increases children’s grades, as demonstrated in this graph showing math grades before and after using a growth mindset intervention in the classroom, with a significant increase in grade point average when growth mindset praise was used. (Blackwell, Trzesniewski, Dweck 2007) When children are praised just for being smart, they want to retain that praise and don’t try harder problems in case they fail and aren’t seen as smart any more. When children are praised for trying – even if they don’t get the problem right, then there is incentive to try harder and harder, which leads to better grades.
The Power of Yet
The objective to change the way you praise children is to acknowledge the future potential in the situation rather than the limitations of right now when the child is still learning. Professor Dweck calls this the ‘power of yet’. In Mindset, she tells a story of a school where when students fail a test, the grade on their paper wouldn’t say ‘fail,’ it would say ‘not yet.’ Telling students they are not ready yet, instead of saying they failed is a much better way to encourage them that even if they have difficulties now, when they keep trying they will succeed eventually. The use of ‘yet’ shows that the learning is ongoing, and that it is the process of learning where the success happens, not the outcome. This also tells children that they aren’t being taught to learn simply to achieve a test score or a high grade, but for their long-term future. It encourages them to dream big, and that learning anything new takes time and patience, and therefore that whatever they want to achieve as adults can be reached – even if it seems impossible now.
Growth mindset also strongly encourages learning that happens collectively. Where children work together, and solve problems together, they learn from watching other children’s different approaches that all of us are smarter than one of us. Especially for young learners, this also encourages sharing, listening, critical thinking discussions, and a social approach to learning, which has long term benefits to collaborations at higher levels of education, university and in the workplace. This infographic shows how the approach of a growth mindset to a fixed mindset differs.
Understanding the power of growth mindset is a secret weapon in a parent’s toolkit when raising a child, especially if applied from birth. Allowing children to struggle and encouraging their own discovery rather than jumping in and helping really helps children to become resilient and capable of solving problems. Children need to be supported with praise that encourages them to make mistakes – as mistakes are what grow the brain by firing neurons and making the new connections that result in knowledge. The growth mindset methodology isn’t just for kids. As parents, fixed mindsets also can limit our self-belief and how we model behaviour in our families and relationships. By using growth mindset language with our kids, we are also helping ourselves achieve – it’s never too late to adopt a growth mindset!
Think about how your inner dialogue sounds. If your child is misbehaving, you might be saying to yourself, ‘I’m a terrible parent’. Instead, you can say to yourself ‘I need to look for a new way to get my child to respond to me’. Or instead of being self-critical, you can simply acknowledge that you can’t always have a well-behaved child. When she does behave as you want her to, you can use growth mindset language to praise her. ‘I noticed how you put your toys in the toy box when you finished playing with them. Thank you for helping me keep our home tidy.’
The RoyalABC of Growth Mindset
Failure and making mistakes are the scaffolding for learning in growth mindset with the true reward that children will develop a lifelong love of learning, the skills to adapt to any situation, curiosity and most of all a sense of courage so they seek fun, success and adventure for life through hard work and self awareness. The proven benefits of growth mindset are taken very seriously and the methodology has been adopted by some of the most prestigious education institutions in the USA and Britain including Cambridge, Eton and Thomas’s Battersea, the kindergarten where the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge send Prince George for his kindergarten education. Prince George, like other children, needs to understand how to work hard with grit and growth mindset throughout his life so he can fully contribute to society – maybe one day as the king of England!
Growth mindset gives children the capacity for lifelong learning. They can adapt to a fast-changing world and they know that new knowledge and skills are available to everyone who keeps trying and learning. There is no limit to their capacity to achieve with a growth mindset. The children of today will work in jobs that we never dreamt of, raise the standard of living for whole communities, and their early education at home and in the classroom are what will prepare them for their exciting future.
Children aged 3-6 now have the opportunity to experience growth mindset in their kindergarten and at home through RoyalABC’s learning ecosystem, the only educational programme in China for young learners that incorporates growth mindset methodology. Students are taught using reward for effort and stretching their capability towards new challenges. Failure is approached as a building block to growing stronger neural pathways and successfully learning new language and life skills and is rewarded as part of the curriculum.
Professor Carol Dweck has had significant input in developing the growth mindset elements of the RoyalABC curriculum and our at-home learning app RoyalABC World. Our classroom and app have strongly embedded within their fun, blended-learning environment the idea that knowledge and skills are things you can cultivate through applied effort. Children will differ in their initial talents and aptitudes, interests, or temperaments, but everyone can change and grow through learning and experience. Give your child an incredible beginning with RoyalABC and through our British English programme of growth mindset and 21st century skills, give them the world.