What is the ‘growth mindset’? Hints and tips for parents.
It’s been taking the U.S. by storm, and it’s about to hit the shores of the U.K. The ‘growth mindset’ movement is the latest way that psychologists think education could be changed for the better. So before it hits, let’s take a look at what exactly a ‘growth mindset’ is, and why the idea is proving so popular.
The idea originated with Carol Dweck, an American psychologist, and the gist of it is that increased effort generally leads to success. Dweck divides learners into groups with ‘growth mindsets’ and ‘fixed mindsets’, which is the difference between believing that effort or innate ability drives success.
Basically, Dweck believes that a growth mindset can benefit the way that we learn and improve by helping us to overcome setbacks, like a low test score. It’s already been dubbed the next self-esteem movement.  Without a doubt, it could help your child’s development- so read on for some helpful hints and tips that you can use to get ahead of the curve.
- Don’t praise the A grade, praise the effort that it took to achieve it.
This point is first for a reason. It’s definitely the most important part of creating a growth mindset. After an exam or a piece of homework gets marked and handed back, you have two options: to think of the short term success or failure of your child at a particular task, or to think of how to help them grow long term.
Encouraging effort is the cornerstone of a growth mindset. According to Carol Dweck’s own website, telling kids that they’re smart, or naturally gifted encourages a fixed mindset whereas praising hard work encourages a growth mindset. After all, if their success is natural to them, why should they try hard to overcome the challenges they will face in life? This leads to negative long term results as opposed to praising the effort they put in instead. 
- Don’t criticise a low test score. Honestly appraise the effort they put in.
Of course, sometimes things go wrong. A piece of homework gets a low mark, or an unexpected question comes up in an exam. But when things do go wrong- and they will go wrong, at some point- it provides your child with an opportunity to grow. Giving bare criticism without a suggestion of how to further improve is absolutely detrimental to development.
By keeping criticism positive, we can encourage rather than discourage future success. Laura Reynolds, an author at InformED, described her experience: after giving a nerve-racking presentation on killer whales, she was harangued with negative feedback about her skills and ability… By her teacher… In front of the entire class!  This put her off public speaking for years to come.
But assessing performance using effort as a metric rather than technical correctness, it’s possible to give constructive criticism to the failure of a test or other task: it gives your child a concrete platform on which to move forward. At the same time, maybe they did put the effort in but failed anyway; being praised for trying their best can help lift their spirits and do better next time. It’s a win-win.
- Set a good example by practicing what you preach
Now, this isn’t intended to be a criticism- just an honest appraisal of the effort you put into your own life! Setting a good example should be one of the first steps to encouraging your child to take on a growth mindset. Try taking on a growth mindset towards the everyday challenges of your life, and it will help both you and your child.
For example: do you complain about your job? Are you unhappy about your life? Is your house a tip? Well, what are you doing about it? Your child will know full well if you’re asking them to put the effort into their work, when you don’t put the effort into yours. And that’s likely to put them off the idea altogether.
- Encourage your child to try new things
Don’t tell your child to play to their strengths. Far better for growth is to encourage them to try new things- and to turn effort itself into one of their strengths. Some children, for example, take like a duck to water to Maths, or to Art, or to Music; but it’s unlikely that your child will succeed in every single subject.
It’s tempting to tell them, in response to them failing to get to grips with a certain subject: ‘It doesn’t matter. It’s just not your strong suit!’ But this limits their growth, and stops them before they start trying to succeed.
Far better is to tell them that although they might not succeed at first, effort always beats out talent. If your child aces Maths tests but completely fails in Music, encourage them to pick up an instrument. They might not ever ace Music like they do Maths- but they’ll learn a valuable lesson about effort, that what you put in is what you get out.
- Remember: there is no such thing as a pure growth mindset.
It’s tempting to think that the ‘growth mindset’ movement might be the answer to complete future success. But it isn’t. Carol Dweck herself says that it is impossible to completely embody the growth mindset, since every single one of us will always be partly fixed in our old ways of thinking, no matter what we do to try and remedy that.
In an article on the subject, she said that ‘if we want to move closer to a growth mindset in our thoughts and practices, we need to stay in touch with our fixed-mindset thoughts and deeds.’ So rather than being something to avoid, a fixed mindset is actually essential to cultivating a growth mindset. Don’t forget that cultivating a growth mindset is a means to an end, and not an end in itself.
James Goldsmith Bio
LinkedIn: James Goldsmith
James graduated from The University of Sussex in 1996 and completed his P.G.C.E teaching qualification in 1997. Since then, James has worked as both a teacher, examiner and in management across a broad spectrum of the State and Independent Education sectors. He is committed to constantly upgrading his teaching skills and raising standards.