9 Strategies for Developing a Growth Mindset in Kids

I had a coach tell me one time; I need to think about my challenges as a brick wall. How do I get past the brink wall- I can go around it, tunnel under it, helicopter over it, jackhammer through it. This is a growth mindset.

A growth mindset can encourage a passion for learning and an ease in facing new challenges. Children with a growth mindset outperform those with a fixed mindset and are more likely to bounce back from failures.

Simply put, a growth mindset is believing that your brain can grow, and you can learn many new things. You are not born smart; you become smart.

A fixed mindset is quite the opposite. It is believing that you cannot learn new things. You are born with your knowledge and skills and cannot get smarter.

1. Teach about the brain and how it works. 

Once kids understand that the brain literally grows new connections as they practice and learn how to do something, they get excited about the learning process.

It may help to explain that the brain is like a muscle. Just like when you lift weights, when you exercise your brain, it will get bigger and stronger. As a child practices a skill, their brain is rewiring itself and forming new connections that make it easier the next time.

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

2. Model a growth mindset for them.

First and foremost, to nurture a growth mindset in others, it is important for parents and caregivers to have a growth mindset themselves.

No matter what you tell children, the best way to teach a growth mindset is to work on developing your own. After all, kids learn much of their behavior and attitudes from observing the adults in their lives. One effective way to do this is to let your kids overhear your thinkingout loud when you go through challenges.

It’s hard to model a growth mindset, though, if you always try to hide your mistakes from your children. It’s a natural tendency since we want to protect them. But in this case, showing your struggles can be a lifelong gift to your children.

So try talking about your mistakes – even parenting mistakes – and what you’ve learned from them. One characteristic of a growth mindset is viewing failure as a springboard for growth. When children see our failures and hear us working through them – using them as a springboard for growth – they will be better equipped to do the same.

3. Add the magical word.

can’t read. I can’t make any 3 pointers. I can’t ride a bike.

It’s heartbreaking to hear a kid mutter phrases like these – sad and frustrated. But it’s a golden opportunity to teach about a growth mindset – with one simple trick.

Teach your child to add the magical word yet to the end of those sentences.

I can’t read YET. I can’t make any 3 pointers YET.I can’t ride a bike YET.

Just one word drastically changes the meaning of the phrase – and the outlook moving forward!

Fixed mindset language starts with failure and negativity.

“I am not good at. . .”
“I can’t. ..”
“It’s too hard. . .”

It focuses on those things that the child feels they ‘can’t’ do, seeing them as weaknesses instead of opportunities for growth. 

In contrast, with growth mindset language, one looks at weaknesses as opportunities for improvement and increased achievement.

“I can’t…yet” 
“I’m not good at … yet.” 

With a growth mindset, failure is not a bad word, it is simply part of learning. When learning new things encountering obstacles to success is to be expected, with mistakes or failures expected potholes on the road to reaching a final goal.

4.Instead of the ‘cant’s,’ focus on the ‘cans’

When a child says they can’t do something, flip the fixed mindset language by talking about what they can do.

For example, if a child says, “I can’t do long division,” foster growth mindset language by saying, “You can divide two digit numbers, which will help you learn how to improve your long division skills.”

By focusing on the ‘cans’ instead of the ‘cant’s,’ children are reminded that everything can be difficult in the beginning, and if they continue to utilize the knowledge and skills they already have, it’s possible and probable that they will indeed reach their goal.

Remember the Little Engine That Could…

5. Teach children to ask for help

Part of having a growth mindset is knowing when to ask for help. “This is just too hard” becomes “I could use some help with this,” when the language is switched from fixed to growth mindset.

Teaching your children to use the tools at their disposal, whether that is textbooks, digital resources, teachers, peers, or parents, can help to strengthen a growth mindset. When students get stuck, it’s important for them to know that it’s completely normal to struggle, and that it is okay to ask for help or to consult the available resources.

6. Use Encouragement

It’s also critical to encourage children for their effort rather than praise their ability or intelligence. It is critical that adults focus on the process children take to obtain a skill, not the end result.

  • You stuck with this until it made sense to you.”
  • “I can see how much you practiced and look how you improved.”
  • “I love the way you tried all kinds of strategies in Math until you got it.”
  • “You look really proud of yourself.”

The key to instilling a growth mindset is teaching kids that their brains are like muscles that can be strengthened through hard work and persistence. To reinforce that as parents, it’s important to encourage effort over outcome. 

7. Focus on alternatives

When things get tough, fixed mindset says, “I give up.” Growth mindset says, “Let’s try a different way.”

Using different strategies to solve problems requires critical thinking, and potentially, communication and collaboration. All of these are important skills that go hand in hand with growth mindset.

If your child is frustrated with a problem they are trying to solve or a skill they are attempting to master, have an open discussion about different ways they might potentially solve the problem. Sometimes this involves actual curricular strategies (like different ways to explain and solve a math problem), but it may also be helpful to use this as an opportunity to break down a big task into smaller, more manageable chunks.

8.  Encourage Journaling

Journal writing is linked to academic benefits, from enhanced writing and communication skills to greater creativity. Journaling can also be a powerful agent for growth and change.

Studies show journaling helps children improve their emotional intelligence and ability to bounce back from obstacles.

To make the most of their journaling experience, encourage your child to find a “journal buddy” — or offer to be one. Together, you’ll be inspired by the stories of famous failures who never gave up, learn to set achievable goals, and discover your superpowers.

9. Offer Growth Mindset Books and Movies

One of the easiest ways to instill a growth mindset in your child and family is also one of the most fun. Stories and films are an incredible resource for shifting the way we think about our abilities.

There is a plethora of books for children on the topic of the growth mindset. Reading a few of these books together will help the student or child become familiar with the strategies needed for a growth mindset.

Like books, movies are also an effective resource for nurturing a growth mindset. Watch films that include examples of people overcoming challenges and discuss the challenges the characters are facing. Identify the strategies they used to overcome those challenges.

  • Remember the Titans
  • The Blind Side
  • Good Will Hunting
  • Moana
  • Brave
  • Finding Nemo

All children have a way of thinking about their strengths and abilities. Those with a fixed mindset believe they cannot change the hand they’re dealt. Scenarios that could lead to mistakes or failure are avoided, meaning opportunities to learn and stretch themselves are lost.

Conversely, children with growth mindsets recognize mistakes and obstacles for what they are — opportunities to learn and develop. Instilling this mindset is as simple as believing it’s possible.

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