Has your child ever said to you ‘There’s no point, I’ll never be able to do it’ or avoided doing something because they’ve failed at it in the past?
Feelings like this can be related to what children believe about what makes them ‘good’ at something – whether it’s school work, sport, or even their ability to manage their emotions and behaviour.
Some children will tend to give up on challenging tasks easily, or avoid tasks they’ve failed at before. They tend to believe that being ‘good’ at a particular activity is a fixed state, and is something they can’t control. In psychology, this way of thinking is called a ‘fixed mindset’.
Others might bounce back quickly from failure and be more likely to explore how they can get better at doing something. They tend to be children who believe that you can improve your abilities by practising, or by finding a different way to achieve your goal. This way of thinking is called a ‘growth mindset’, and developing it can help make children more resilient for life.
There are lots of small things you can do every day that can help your little one develop a growth mindset.
Is ability something innate?
Professor Carol Dweck, an American psychologist, found that we all have different beliefs about the underlying nature of ability.
Children (and adults!) with a growth mindset believe that intelligence and abilities can be developed through effort, persistence, trying different strategies and learning from mistakes.
On the other hand, people with a fixed mindset believe that our intelligence and abilities are fixed traits; something that you are born with and that you can’t really do anything about.
How do the different Mindsets develop and why are they important?
Most babies are excited to learn. However, as soon as children are able to compare themselves to others, some will stop focusing on learning and will instead focus on performance; they want to look clever in front of others and more importantly, they want to feel clever.
According to someone with a fixed mindset, if you fail at something, make a mistake, or even have to put effort in, it must be because ‘you’re just not clever enough’. Because of that belief, children begin to avoid challenges and choose activities that they find easy.
People with a fixed mindset feel as if they have no control over their abilities, and are helpless in the face of difficulties and setbacks. They begin to feel disheartened if they find something difficult, which can lead to low self-esteem and a developing sense that there is ‘no point’ in trying.
Over time, children who feel like this may decrease their efforts and sometimes even engage in disruptive behaviours (anything that will detract from the fact that they are struggling).
Children with a growth mindset think very differently. They believe that they can get better at something by practising, so when they’re faced with a challenge, they become more and more determined to succeed, wanting to persevere and overcome knockbacks. They tend to feel as if they’re in control, and are not threatened by hard work or failure.
Although no one likes failing, children with a Growth Mindset do not let failure define them; instead, they use setbacks to motivate them. Children with a Growth Mindsetenjoy challenges and the sense of achievement they get when they succeed.
Researchers have found that building a growth mindset helps children at school; making them more motivated, more engaged in the classroom and likely to receive higher marks for their work.
Lots of research has been conducted in America (this approach is really popular in schools in the US), and our team at the University of Portsmouth has found that developing a growth mindset has a positive impact on children’s learning and attainment in UK schools too.
But it’s not all about educational outcomes. Research also suggests that having a growth mindset increases children’s ability to try all sorts of different challenges and problems that they might not have otherwise tackled.
And because children no longer need to engage in various self-protection strategies, developing a growth mindset also appears to improve behaviour, increase life satisfaction, and help children to control their emotions.