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In this article, you will learn about growth mindset-

  • versus fixed mindset
  • benefits
  • tips for teaching it to children
During WW2,  
 , a Dutch of Jewish descent, was sent to a concentration camp. At the center, he experienced the horrors of the Holocaust. Schwartz had to escape the terrible conditions using his mind.

Schwartz focused on his mindfulness and found that he could control his body’s response to pain. Schwartz developed extreme control of his mindfulness. Allegedly, he could stick a six-inch needle in his skin with no pain nor bleeding!

The study of psychology is the study of the mind. Psychologists delve into the depths of the mind in their profession. One Stanford psychologist, Carol Dweck, and her team of researchers dug the mind’s depths to develop a theory about mindsets.

In an  
 , Dweck and her crew gave puzzles to four-year-old children. Then the researcher offered children a choice. The toddlers could choose to do an easy puzzle or attempt a harder one.


Dweck developed the idea of fixed and growth mindsets. She determined:

  • Fixed mindset children stuck with the easy puzzle.
  • Growth mindset children tried the harder one.

The experiment revealed that rigid thinking children wanted to do the same puzzle repeatedly to show their intelligence. Expansive thinkers wanted to learn something new.

A fixed mindset definition

The mindset of a student is a factor in motivation and achievement. An attitude refers to self-assessment and perception of one’s abilities. A student might have a fixed mindset if…

A student whose perspective is immovable believes no change is possible in:

  • intelligence
  • skills
  • creativity
  • personality

The person finds their thinking is challenging to change or develop.

A fixed mindset person might believe that:

  • you’re born with it
  • gifts are immutable and innate
  • skills are stuck

The adverse effects manifest in harmful ways in education. Imagine a math class where a child (for fun, let’s call him Steven) does poorly on a math test. Steven’s thought process might go like this:

  1. I’m dumb for not getting this.
  2. I don’t want to look silly, so I will just avoid math.
  3. I will never be able to do the math.

The flaw in this thinking is kind of obvious. When a person is born, they are skilled criers, sleepers (hopefully), eaters, and poopers. Infants have no other skills.

How do we know that growth occurs? Society exists because people progress beyond their initial set of baby skills.

For example, Albert Einstein’s success highlights the flaw in rigid thinking. Before discovering his humanity-changing theory of special relativity (E=MC²). Einstein failed to identify the math proving his theory.

Luckily for the world, Einstein did not have a fixed mindset. Otherwise, he would have quit when his first set of proofs failed. Instead, he spent a decade working on the formula before publishing it.

A growth mindset definition

Another type of mindset is a growth mindset. A student who has a growth mindset believes in the fluidity of:

  • intelligence
  • skills
  • creativity
  • personality

  found that students who learn about the process of learning grow their brains. These children do better in school.

This individual believes that they can grow their skills. The process of improvement is not easy. A person who believes in advancement knows that hard work, good strategies, and feedback from other people will eventually help them achieve their goals.

Positive effects manifest in good ways in education. A study by Nature suggests that applying a growth mindset nets positive benefits.

For example, Steven does poorly on a math test. His thought process proceeds:

  1. I need to improve my division skills
  2. Math will get easier.
  3. All I have to do is practice and use the correct method.
Steven views the challenge as an exciting chance to grow.  
  with Steven. Viewing setbacks as challenges creates lifelong learners.

A growth mindset isn’t about rewarding effort, but it is essential to developing a growth mindset. Yet, there needs to be a dedicated approach to learning and improving. The challenge for parents is rewarding effort while providing opportunities for helpful feedback.

A growth mindset is not:

  • being optimistic
  • rolling with the punches with a smile on your face
  • being flexible

Those are good qualities, but it does not mean you have a growth mindset. It means you have a sunny disposition.

It is not all about telling children they are doing good just for the sake of mindless praise. Here’s why mindless praise hurts:

  • does not help children
  • glosses over education gaps
  • prevents the development of “grit.”

Then, students do not develop the necessary perseverance to be successful in school.

Effort without learning is not helpful. Telling a child that they are doing great might help at the moment. For children, the action is admirable. But as Dweck notes,  

The difference between praising effort and a growth mindset is subtle. For illustration, imagine your child. For this thought experiment, let’s go back to Steven.

Steven is clever. Academics come easy for Steven, especially math. Steven is chugging along one day, doing great with his math practice. He is a master of addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. Then comes the introduction of letters in math. The Dreaded Variable rears its gnarly head.

Steven struggles to solve for “x.” You praise his effort. What’s next, though?

For parents, there is a needed follow-up to that praise. The follow-up includes:

  1. teaching Steven problem-solving skills
  2. asking quality questions like:
  • What have you tried?
  • What is working?
  • What’s not working?
  • What can you try next?

This line of questioning foregrounds the process of learning.

The process of learning is the goal. The effort is a crucial component of achieving that target. Steven hasn’t gotten it yet, but he will with action and a clear objective. A flexible individual will try novel ideas to solve a problem. When a person is committed to a growth mindset, fear of failure becomes less.

For instance, in the 19th century, Thomas Edison spent months developing  
 . Failure after failure did not discourage Edison, and he quipped, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

How did Edison show his growth mindset?

  • His actions highlighted his resilience.
  • Edison showed a willingness to take a risk.
  • The inventor redefined failure.
  • Edison did not see failing as a negative thing.
  • He was learning.

How do we develop a growth mindset for kids?

Here are the top five things to develop a growth mindset!

  1. You have to be okay with setbacks. Don’t shy away. Accept that struggles occur and focus on the path forward. The way to overcome those struggles comes from a combination of effort and input. Challenges are not failures. Setbacks are chances to learn.
  2. Don’t think of challenges as setbacks. Instead, those challenges are opportunities for growth and learning. Franklin Delano Roosevelt said, “A smooth sea never made a skilled sailor.” For instance, when a sailor is out on the ocean and is placid, it’s easygoing. When a storm comes, that’s when sailors learn how to become proficient seamen. Thunder, lightning, and rowdy waves all make sailors develop skills.
  3. There is no one silver bullet for learning. Try to use a variety of learning strategies. What works for one person does not always work for another. It’s okay to acknowledge that the present struggle is real. Remind yourself that you haven’t accomplished your goal yet. Dweck recalls that “not yet” is a critical phase. It indicates a willingness to keep trying or grit.
  4. Remember, your brain is flexible. You should relax your mind too. One of the ways your brain does impressive stuff is through 
     . It is moldable and lets you build new pathways. That moldability is called neuroplasticity.
  5. Focus on the process. Although outcomes matter, the process of learning matters too. Continue to learn, ask questions, and refine your strategy. Learning something with speed doesn’t mean anything if the process is flawed. It’s okay if learning takes a little time.

For parents–when your child does something unique, praise the process. Imagine your child is learning how to work with variables. The sequence should go:

  • guided practice with you
  • independent work
  • feedback
  • more practice and discussion
  • successful completion of an exercise

At this moment, instead of saying, “you’re so smart,” praise your scholar for the hard work and dedication to learning. You might say:

  • Practicing like that was clever of you.
  • I am proud of you for continuing to work on something challenging.
  • Your hard work paid off.

It’s important to praise the process as much as the outcome.

Henry Ford said, “Whether you believe you can do a thing or not, you are right.” This maxim applies to thinking too. It might be helpful to rephrase Ford’s advice in mindset terms. Whether you believe you can improve your thinking approach or not, you are right.

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