8 Ways to Encourage Growth Mindset in Your Children

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This post is sponsored by Faraday School, an independent primary school in East London for boys and girls aged 4-11. Its riverside location provides a magical environment and access to a stimulating, creative community that offers exciting learning opportunities for pupils and staff. 

 

As our children go back to school in September, with new challenges and new teachers to get used to, it can be a time of excitement but also of nerves – for them and us!

Moving up to Junior or Secondary school can also lead to extra pressure for children who may lack confidence and self belief, and this attitude that their attainment can’t be changed can lead to a ‘fixed mindset’ where they think that they can’t do any better. With a fixed mindset we avoid challenges and give up easily, meaning that we probably won’t reach our full potential. 

The Growth Mindset theory was researched and developed by Professor Carol Dweck and suggests that our ability, intelligence and performance can all be improved by changing our mindset, using a mixture of hard work, good strategies and mentoring. It makes sense that the earlier in life we get used to thinking in this way, the more benefit it will bring it, so schools have a vital role to play. 

A school culture that puts an emphasis on high expectations of effort and teachers giving effective feedback is instrumental in helping children develop a healthy growth mindset, but we parents can help at home too. Faraday School suggest these 8 simple ways how:

 

1. Your language – this is the most important. Embrace the “Power of Yet” “I don’t know how to do this…yet!” This will encourage your children to have confidence in their ability to succeed eventually. 

 

“I can’t do it!” You could go with that old stubborn favourite “There’s no such word as Can’t” (except there is, it’s in the dictionary and everything!) but how about actually acknowledging that the struggle is real for your children but it’s only temporary! It’s a phrase that gets used in our house due to a Mini who’s rather short for his age and whose desire to climb large equipment in the playground doesn’t always match his ability. I don’t ever want him to be disheartened to try so…“You can’t climb this yet without sitting on Mummy’s head but when you’re older and bigger you will”. 

Alternatively you could sing The Avenue Q song “For Now” at your child if you’re feeling in fine voice as it’s the song that gets me through trying phases in life.   

 

2. Give plenty of opportunities to take risks and give things a go – this is the only way to know that perserverance is key and getting thing wrong is okay.

 

It’s hard to let our children to take risks – especially if you are a risk averse wincer like me – it’s never nice to see your child hurt or disappointed or fail. But if they don’t ever try to eat the Green Eggs and Ham how will they know if they will like it? Learning to ride a bike without stabilizers leads to a risk of falling over and banging your chin on the handlebar sure, but learning why they fell and getting back on could end up with them winning the Tour De France (or just having fun riding in the park maybe)!

 

3. Allowing them to fail – living in a bubble where everything goes well and you never feel unsure is not helpful and it’s not reality.

 

Things go wrong. Plans go awry. It’s really important that children know that it happens to adults too. “Well that didn’t go to plan did it?” you can tell them. “I’m not sure if this is going to work but we’ll have a go!” (That definitely applies to me trying to bake a cake!) It’s time to channel your inner Flop and let them know “It’s No Big Thing” (Bing’s bunny biscuits burnt and his cake broke into pieces but “It’s No Big Thing”). Scientists learn important information from experiments that don’t go according to their hypothesis just as much as ones that do. So why do they think it went wrong? What could be done differently next time? (Don’t leave your homework until the night before! Take your time, don’t rush!)

 

4. Use visual metaphors – children need to see the learning process, how it works and how to improve. Eg The Learning Pit or The Iceberg Illusion.

 

A picture paints a thousand words. Visual metaphors for visual learners are a godsend so use them. We use little children’s current knowledge of life and stories all the time to give them explanations and help them see solutions so it makes sense to continue as they get older too.  The Learning Pit suggests that the only way to get to a high plane of understanding they need to climb in the pit and climb out the other side. (Why did the chicken cross the pit? Anyone?) At some points when they are at the bottom of the pit they may not understand very much but as they work harder at their learning, and work with support from others perhaps, they will climb out the pit to the other side with the required knowledge. Not going in the pit isn’t learning it’s just luck or “falling with style” as Buzz would say. 

The Iceberg Illusion is, I think, an even clearer visual metaphor linked to the knowledge that icebergs are 90% underwater and so achieving success takes more than meets the eye. They could have used my Swan Swimming Gracefully on Water Principle but the Iceberg metaphor is undoubtedly clearer and, ahem just deeper!     

Iceberg

5. Help your child to recognise feelings and emotions – not getting things ‘right’ first time can be very frustrating and we all want to give up sometimes.

 

“What are you worried about?” “How are you feeling about this?” These are questions I ask Mini regularly. His mother is one of Nature’s worriers and I want him to know that it is indeed good to talk and it helps. I regularly got frustrated at school if I felt I couldn’t do something…normally in maths, (but of course I couldn’t possibly ask for help) and that frustration would manifest itself in tears. The tears would then lead to embarrassment which would then lead to more tears. I feel it made me more empathetic when I see it in others so there’s the silver lining! Doing homework with our children can be a stressful time for parents and children alike when this can all blow up so it’s really important that we acknowledge their feelings and they can discuss it – “I know you’re feeling frustrated about this but let’s try this example and see if it’s any clearer for you”. 

 

6. Facilitate learning – it’s not about fixing and telling. In other words, letting them problem-solve themselves, but with guidance. Try not to jump in too soon. 

 

Travel can (and should imo) be about the journey just as much as the destination. Similarly learning is about the process as much as the end result. It’s why you get extra marks in exams if you show your working and why you can still get marks if you do, even if the final answer is incorrect. So we have to support our children, suggest choices that may find helpful but they need to ultimately try to solve it themselves first (Why do YOU think the chicken crossed the road?). Oh but it’s hard isn’t it. Like when they are little, trying to do crafts and cutting out a paper template and you’re sure they’re going to chop the head off the paper creature. Your hands are itching to take over so it all stays in one piece but instead you need to just suggest they could turn the paper with the other hand to help them learn to use scissors. You’re allowed to intervene if they look like they are about to chop off their own fingers of course, but ultimately you want them to successfully attempt the process regardless of the interestingly shaped monster they create. 

 

7. Celebrate effort and perserverance- it’s hard work and sometimes you can feel as though you aren’t improving. It’s easy to focus your praise on the end goal, but encourage your children to be proud of what they did to get there.

 

The initial starting point of Professor Dweck’s research was giving 2 sets of children a test and praising one on their effort and the other on their intelligence. She found that the ones who were praised for their effort were more prepared to take a harder test the next time to increase their learning and did better on it than the other set. The other group was also more interested to know about how their peers had done (Self doubt that they are as clever as the others). By praising the effort of your child you are helping to increase their self-belief of the attainment that effort can achieve. In turn the theory states that when they then experience new things, they have the opportunity to improve their understanding, if they put that effort in again.

 

Learning Pit

8. Recognise small steps in the right direction – look back and see how far they have come. Can you measure it? What do they think? How do they feel? What’s the next goal?                                

 

Whatever they’ve achieved, no matter how small, it’s an achievement. Let them know it. If they can marry up their achievements with how it makes them feel, then those positive emotions of success will help motivate them to want to achieve more. Learning to self-evaluate those achievements will help them to work out future goals and what the small, attainable, next steps in their understanding are. Pride in how far they have come will help to give them self-ownership of their learning. And that my dear Ginnies, that power is priceless!  

By Laura Cheek. 

This post is sponsored by Faraday School, an independent primary school in East London for boys and girls aged 4-11. Its riverside location provides a magical environment and access to a stimulating, creative community that offers exciting learning opportunities for pupils and staff. 

 

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Laura Cheek is currently a SAHM who is also a qualified primary teacher. This means her poor family have to put up with "The Look", the bossiness and far too much "tut" that might be useful one day. She loves her local community and has her fingers in many voluntary pies. One day she will be an organised, graceful, stylish, domestic goddess. Today is not that day.

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