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What is Growth Mindset and Why is it Important?

The idea of having a growth mindset has been around for a while in one form or another, but the impact it can have on children’s potential (and the potential this had for educators) was proposed by Carol Dweck, a Stanford professor, in her book Mindset back in 2006.

Teachers are notoriously sceptical about new ‘fads’ like this – a new one comes to light once every few years, is fashionable for a while and then falls out of favour as the next ‘big thing’ comes to light. However, it’s been 15 years and Growth Mindset shows no signs of falling out of favour – and for good reason, because it has been proved in classrooms all over the world to be a powerful tool.

Outside of schools and business settings (where it is also still very popular), people tend to have heard of it, but can’t necessarily define what it is.

What is a growth mindset, and why is it generally recognised to be crucial for children’s development and progress not just now, but throughout their lives?

Growth Mindset as an umbrella term describes what an individual believes about the nature of their intelligence and how they learn.

Dweck posts that individuals, in general, tend to have one of two mindsets: fixed, or growth.

  • People with fixed mindsets believe that people have a certain level of intelligence that never changes. They believe that people who have more intelligence, or who are more ‘clever’ learn things more easily. They believe that learning is limited by how intelligent they are. People with a fixed mindset tend to be less persistent when facing a challenge and less resilient when they fail.

  • People with a growth mindset believe that intelligence is flexible, and affected by both time and effort. They believe that their skills can be improved over time with practice. They understand failure to be a part of the learning process and tend therefore to be more resilient than their peers with a fixed mindset.

From the descriptions alone it is clear that a fixed mindset is something that can limit both children and adults, and Dweck’s research threw up some very interesting outcomes when it comes to how children respond to learning depending on their mindset:

  • Children with a fixed mindset were measurably quicker to give up on a task than their growth mindset equivalents. This led to lost learning.

  • When faced with an easy or a trickier challenge, children with the fixed mindset chose the easy challenge that didn’t teach them anything, whereas children with a growth mindset almost always chose the tricker challenge, leading to more learning for them.

  • Children with fixed mindsets are proved over and over again to be less confident and more anxious than children with a growth mindset. It’s not surprising, really. If you think your intelligence level is fixed, a learning challenge can be seen as something that you ‘can’t’ do – it would make anyone under-confident!

  • Children with a fixed mindset tend to take failure personally, seeing it as a reflection of them and their intelligence, whereas children with a growth mindset embrace failure and tend to see it as part of the learning process.

  • Children with a fixed mindset find it hard to ask for help. It’s linked to the last point, really. As these children see failure as a personal deficiency, they want to hide it from the people most important to them, such as their friends, teachers and parents.

And so you can see that developing a growth mindset in children is going to give them a head start in life, and will continue to help them thrive throughout adulthood. It can be hard for parents with a fixed mindset (I’m one of them) to develop a growth mindset in their children. It’s so easy to say to them ‘Oh, you struggle with maths just like me. Our side of the family just isn’t good at maths’. It trips off the tongue so easily – often it's what we heard our parents say to us!

Next week we’ll be sharing some great, actionable tips to help develop a growth mindset in your child, but let’s do one right now – it’s easy, it’s fast and it will have a huge impact.

Top Tip for Developing a Growth Mindset in Your Child:

Praise effort rather than intelligence.

It’s much simpler than it sounds (and becomes second nature after a few weeks of having to remind yourself!)

Rather than saying ‘well done, you’re so clever for doing that’, try to praise the amount of effort instead – ‘well done, I can see you worked really hard on that’.

The caveat with this tip is that you can only do it when they really have worked hard on something – as we all know, children can pick up very easily on praise that isn’t sincere, or is just a passing phrase – so save it for the things that really deserve a well done. It’s worth it, I promise!

If you would like some support in helping your child to develop a growth mindset, get in touch! We are offering specialist, bespoke sessions which are aimed at targeting just that, through our new programme, Emotions First. This programme aims to help your child explore the emotions surrounding their learning and support them to turn negative situations into positive ones with a growth mindset approach.

You can also get your FREE copy of our downloadable Children's Feelings Diary here, which can help you to support a child who is struggling with their confidence levels.

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