What Parents Should Know about a Growth Mindset vs. a Fixed Mindset

The conversation about growth mindset versus fixed mindset is an important one for anyone involved in educating a child. These concepts have become more well-known thanks to the research of Dr. Carol Dweck and her colleagues. A world-renowned Stanford University psychologist, Dr. Dweck set out to study the effect that failure has on students. Here are some of her most valuable findings:

If we believe our brain can grow, we behave differently.
Growth mindset is very simply knowing and believing that your brain can grow, which means your abilities and intelligence can develop.

When students have a fixed mindset, they believe they are stuck with whatever cards they were dealt. Phrases like “I’m not smart like her” or “I’m just not good at math” are evidence of a fixed mindset. When children have a fixed mindset, they are less likely to try because they do not believe they can change who they are.

However, when children are taught to have a growth mindset, they are more likely to try new things and rise to the occasion when they meet a challenge. If you know you can change, you are infinitely more likely to try.

Growth mindset can be learned.
If you read the phrases above like “I’m not smart” or “I’m not good at math” and panicked because you’ve heard them in your homeschool, there is good news. It is a scientific fact that brains can change and grow. Consequently, it is very possible to help your child move from a discouraging fixed mindset to an empowering growth mindset.

As part of Dr. Dweck’s studies, a group of 7th graders were taught that intelligence is not set in stone. They were shown how the brain’s neurological pathways can change and how the brain can get stronger with effort. This group of students showed a clear increase in their math grades.

If your child currently has a fixed mindset, it’s time for a science lesson about how the brain grows!

The type of feedback a student receives correlates with whether the child believes he or she can achieve.
Many of us have encouraged a child by saying, “You are so smart!” It seems so harmless, but researchers have found that this type of praise can actually lead to that negative fixed mindset: I am what I am. There’s no changing it. Thankfully, I’m smart. Sadly, this type of mindset can make a child give up or lose self-confidence when he or she encounters a problem that brings this identity into question: Maybe I’m not smart after all. I can’t do this, so I’m not smart!

An alternative to this type of praise is drawing attention to your child’s hard work and effort. Praising what a child did rather than who that child is can help cultivate a growth mindset that empowers the child when difficulties arise.

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