June 20, 2022
In this article, we will think about resilience and discuss what a growth mindset is and also what it isn’t. We will ask why it is important to have a growth mindset and think about how to encourage a growth mindset in your child and look at some growth mindset activities for kids.
Resilience means grit, determination and persistence. When resilient person comes across a difficult problem, they don’t give up. Instead, they try to solve it. When bad things happen, they learn from the experience and quickly bounce back, ready to face the next challenge. In short, resilient people have a growth mindset.
What is a Growth Mindset?
Carol S. Dweck first discussed the idea of a growth mindset in her book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. A growth mindset is a belief that you can develop skills and abilities through hard work and determination. As Dweck says, people with a growth mindset believe “that talents and abilities could be developed and that challenges [are] the way to do it.”
Dweck contrasts the growth mindset with what she calls a “fixed mindset”. People with a “fixed mindset” believe that intelligence and ability are something you are born with. They believe that these things are something that cannot be changed, and any challenge risks exposing them as “stupid”. As Dweck puts it, “As soon as children become able to evaluate themselves, some of them become afraid of challenges. They become afraid of not being smart.”
Why is a Growth Mindset Important?
As we go through life, we encounter many challenges. Our education, work, and personal lives will all contain difficulties that we need to overcome. People with a fixed mindset are more likely to give up, blame themselves and become depressed or anxious.
For resilient students with a growth mindset, however, these difficulties, challenges and problems are an opportunity to learn and grow, a chance to acquire and develop new skills. They are less likely to give up, and more likely to be happier and more successful.
It is important to note that this does not only apply to academic achievements or work. Be it making friends or in relationships, our personal lives very often can be affected by how resilient we are too (or how quickly we give up).
What a Growth Mindset isn’t: Some common misunderstandings.
The importance of a growth mindset, for students, in particular, is very well known nowadays. Since Dweck first published her book the theory has become increasingly popular amongst educators and business leaders. However, as it has become more popular, more people have misunderstood exactly what a growth mindset is, and how to encourage a growth mindset in your child.
1. A growth mindset is not just persistence
“Praise the effort, not the result” is something we often hear in education and parenting. It is easy to understand why. After all, if a child makes a great effort, then that’s a good thing, and we should acknowledge it. Also, if a child makes an effort to do something, and receives praise for that effort, then they are more likely to make similar efforts in the future.
However, too often praising effort can have the wrong effect on a child’s understanding. Rather than praising effort and ignoring outcomes, educators and parents need to link the effort to the outcome. As Dweck points out, “It’s not just effort, but strategy.”
Imagine your child is making a lego house. Rather than interlocking the bricks, they stack the bricks one on top of the other in tall columns which, inevitably, fall over. A great effort indeed, but completely the wrong strategy, and to praise the effort would be to encourage the child to pursue this strategy.
So, instead of blindly praising effort over outcome we need to help the child discover new strategies, and draw their attention to how these strategies create better results.
We don’t all have a growth mindset all the time
A growth mindset isn’t the same as being “open-minded” or remaining positive in the face of difficulties. Some teachers will tell you “I have a growth mindset in my classes!” or businesses will declare ”We encourage our employees to experiment and take risks!” But do they? The truth is that it is easier said than done.
Most people have different mindsets at different times and in different areas of their lives. Teachers, for example, might want to encourage a growth mindset in their students, but then return tests with bad grades without taking the time to examine the strategies the students used when taking the exams. Or parents might want to help their children be more resilient but then protect them from difficult situations which could help them to practise overcoming problems.
We all make these mistakes, partly because a “fixed” understanding of ability is so common in our society. It isn’t “wrong”. The truth is we need to have a growth mindset even about how we develop a growth mindset! It is important to acknowledge the times when we find a fixed mindset creeping in, and take steps to avoid it in the future.
A growth mindset does not guarantee success
Having a growth mindset, or, more commonly, saying you have a growth mindset, doesn’t mean you will necessarily succeed. As we have seen, resilience and a growth mindset aren’t the same as simply being open-minded, positive, or persevering when things get tough. It’s about honestly assessing the strategies you are using. It’s about examining how you approach problems and how you deal with them.
How to Encourage a Growth Mindset: Some Activities you can Try at Home
Resilience and a growth mindset are something that you can develop. In fact, it needs to be developed. Children aren’t born believing that they are good or bad, but the concepts of good and bad are amongst the first that they learn. And for a good reason.
However, with this understanding come dangers. Dweck has shown that children as young as two or three will condemn themselves as “bad” when they get things wrong. This understanding can develop into ideas about being “smart” or “stupid” and can lead very easily to a fixed mindset.
Therefore, it is important to help children to develop a growth mindset.
Let’s look at some growth mindset activities for kids and exercise for children’s growth and development:
“I can’t do it … yet.”
This activity addresses a child’s negative self-talk. When a child says something like “I can’t do it!” we can gently remind them to add “..yet.” If a child says “I’m not clever enough,” we can change that to “I want to learn more.”
These small changes help them to make a connection between frustration and an opportunity to learn something new. Positive self-talk is one of the best ways to encourage resilience and a growth mindset.
Dweck’s research also shows that when children are exposed to role models who overcame failure by perseverance and resilience, rather than natural ability, those children began to develop growth midgets too. Examples of difficulties faced by successful people such as Elvis Presley, Stephen King or Walt Disney, can help children to develop a growth mindset and welcome challenges.
The example doesn’t even have to be real. Characters from fiction often face and overcome difficulties as part of the “hero’s journey” and movies or books are a great way to introduce these ideas to your kids.
Talk about your mistakes
Talk openly with your children about mistakes, both theirs and your own. By being honest about things you got wrong, you will show your child that it’s ok to make mistakes. Remember it’s not enough to simply admit to being wrong, you need to focus on new strategies, and how you are going to do things differently in the future.
This game helps children to reflect on what they’ve learned, whilst also helping them to acknowledge the limits of their understanding. They need to think of three things that they’ve learned that day, two things they still want to learn and one question they have. By doing this we can show that learning is never over and that it is fun to learn more.
Paper ball game
This is a good way to help children cope with disappointments and frustration.
On a piece of paper, the child writes something that annoys them or worries them etc. Then the child screws up the paper and throws it at the wall as hard as they can. (Get your child to shout at the same time if you can!) Then you wait for ten seconds. Then ask your child to go over the paper and read what it says. Tell them that everyone makes mistakes or is disappointed and that it’s ok. Next, they can screw up the paper again, and this time throw it in the trash. It’s like saying goodbye to our mistakes!
In this article, we’ve looked at how to develop resilience and a growth mindset, why these are important and looked at some exercises to help your child develop and grow. A growth mindset is something that takes time to develop. For those of us who are older, our schools, homes and even workplaces often work according to a “fixed” idea of ability and intelligence and it can be very hard to break the spell.
Having a growth mindset is easy on paper, but in the real world, we often find ourselves making mistakes and blaming ourselves. We need to remember that mistakes are not only not bad, but they are also good! As long as we can learn from them mistakes should be welcomed. In the words of one of Dwecks students, struggling with a particularly difficult task: “Mistakes are our friend.”
Chris is from Thurso, in the north of Scotland. He has been teaching for over seven years in China, the UK, Hungary and Spain. He has a background in Music and studied Composition at the RSAMD in Glasgow, Trinity Laban in London and the University of York. After finishing his master’s at York, he travelled to China to teach for a little while and fell in love with teaching. He has been teaching ever since.