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Five effective ways to boost your child’s growth mindset, confidence and resilience

Have you ever heard someone say ‘I’m not athletic’ or ‘I’m not a maths person’ or even have said something like this yourself? Until relatively recently many people have believed that there are certain aspects of ourselves which will always remain unchangeable, however following years of research, Carol Dweck, the Lewis and Virginia Eaton Professor at Stanford University, found evidence to demonstrate that human intelligence, creativity, athleticism and other qualities are not fixed straits that we are born with. Instead they can be developed and changed with time and effort using growth mindset strategies. Through her research she identified two types of mindsets called fixed and growth.

  • Fixed Mindset: This is the belief that intelligence is fixed and that any subject that is difficult or requires more effort simply means that you are not good at it.
  • Growth Mindset: This is the belief that intelligence can be grown and subjects that are difficult or require extra effort means that you are increasing your intelligence.

All people have a combination of both mindsets depending on the situation, for example a person could have a growth mindset about learning a new language but a fixed mindset about losing weight.

You as a parent have the ability to positively influence mindset and research shows that when children understand that their brain like a muscle which the capacity to strengthen and grow they become more motivated to learn, have greater sense of ambition and desire to overcome challenges and overall gain a higher academic achievement.

It is even more important to develop a growth mindset in dyslexic children as they are unfortunately likely to experience frustrating challenges and setbacks with their learning.

You can help your child to develop a growth mindset by:

1. Talking to them about the brain:

Children get excited about the learning process when they understand that their brain actually grows new connections as they learn new things and practice skills. To help them understand this you can say things like:

  • “Your brain is a muscle, the more you use it the stronger it gets.”
  • “The feeling of this being hard is the feeling that your brain is growing”.
  • “Every time you practice, your brain rewires itself, forms new connections and strengthens those connexions which make it easier the next time round.”

When children learn how their brains work and grow, they take the first steps of developing a growth mindset.

Watch the video – ‘You Can Learn Anything’ by Kahn Academy (1.31) and then think of someone you or your child admires and talk about all the small skills they had to learn and knowledge they had to acquire to get to where they got to.

Next, Ask – ‘How do we learn things?’ Prompt the answer or explain that we build one skill on another, persevering when we get things wrong and make mistakes and grow our brain.

Then, go back to the previous discussions and talk about how you and they had to overcome problems in the learning process.  Highlight the effort, the different strategies used, and how others helped either by following instructions or by being on hand to offer guidance.

Chat with them about how people with a growth mindset develop skills needed to succeed by believing that they can learn and become better equipped to handle mistakes and setbacks. Through persistence, they know that hard work can help them achieve their goals.  Talk about some well-known people who have achieved their ambitions by developing and applying a growth mindset.

2. Praising for effort rather than achievement

Focusing more on the processes of what children do rather than their results can develop a growth mindset. For example:

  • “You worked hard to get that right!”(effort).
  • “That was a clever idea to tackle the hardest task first” (strategy).

This type of praise helps children to develop the belief that success has more to do with what they do and the effort they put in than any innate skills and talents.

Chat with them about how people with a growth mindset develop skills needed to succeed by believing that they can learn and become better equipped to handle mistakes and setbacks. Through persistence, they know that hard work can help them achieve their goals.  Talk about some well-known people who have achieved their ambitions by developing and applying a growth mindset.

For instance: before the publication of the Harry Potter series, J.K. Rowling believed herself to be “the biggest failure I knew”. Her first book about Harry Potter was rejected by 12 publishers but her courage, determination and growth mindset kept her going and led to the creation of the best-selling book series in history.

3. Showing them the power of yet

Children can get easily frustrated by difficult and unfamiliar tasks saying that they ‘can’t do it!’ or that they ‘don’t know the answer!’.  Encouraging them to add the word ‘yet’ to their complaints, changes how they feel about their abilities. For example:

  • “I cant do this…….yet.”
  • “I don’t know how to do it……yet.”
  • “I don’t understand………..yet.”

This reframes their mindset and teaches them that effort and persistence will enable them to achieve what they had previously thought was beyond them. 

4. Celebrate their mistakes

Get excited when opportunities for growth occur! Discuss mistakes you have made in your life and more recently, talk about what you learnt and how you tackled that situation again. In a challenging moment, say things like:

  • “This seems like a chance to grow our brains!”
  • “You can learn from this”
  • “What can we learn from this?”
  • “Lets see what other strategies you can try.”

Create an environment where setbacks are expected and even celebrated.

Thomas Edison, inventor of the light bulb, amongst a number of other great ideas, was quoted as saying that “opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like hard work”. When asked about all the times his ideas didn’t work he famously replied “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work”.

5. Discuss feelings, good and bad

Discuss how positive feelings such as satisfaction, enjoyment, and happiness come from persisting through challenges and not giving up when things get difficult.

Sometimes it can be difficult to talk about negative emotions. These suggestions can make it easier:

  • Share how you sometimes feel sad, anxious, or even hopeless.
  • Explain that negative feelings happen to everyone and are perfectly normal.
  • Discuss how these feelings may serve as clues that you need to shift your thinking and attitude. For instance fear means it’s time to be brave, anxiety means it’s time to ask for help, sadness means it’s time to talk, etc.

Final thought

There are so many factors that affects our children’s mindsets from day to day and we can never totally rid them of a fixed mindset. As parents we can only hope to give them a set of strategies to help them avoid being deterred by failure being, afraid of taking on challenges and believing they are somehow incapable of doing, learning or achieving something. By adopting the methods above into everyday life, you will know you have given your child/children the tools to help them overcome obstacles and challenges their whole lives long and in the process you’ve likely developed your own growth mindset too.

I hope that this was helpful – let me know in the comments if you have any additional thoughts.

Author: Zoë Brown

I am a dyslexia specialist, qualified in assessing dyslexia and literacy related difficulties as well as tutoring dyslexic children and those who need additional literacy support. Having been diagnosed as dyslexic at an early age, I have a personal understanding of both the challenges and advantages that dyslexia brings. I feel strongly that when given the right support and positive encouragement, dyslexic people of all ages can excel in confidence and academic attainment.

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