Growth mindset - how to help your kids develop a growth mindset

So often we equate a ‘growth mindset’ with praise and the words that we use to encourage or reward our kids; ‘You tried so hard’ as a replacement for ‘You’re so clever’.  But a growth mindset is not about success. It’s not about hard work, or effort or believing in yourself. It’s not about intelligence and the malleability of the brain. A growth mindset is much deeper than the words we use to praise, encourage or motivate.

Psychologist and performance expert Dr Jo Mitchell from The Mind Room, recently had this to say about drives and motivates people to become their very best:

“The people who really excel often have an amazing growth mindset. They are incredibly able to deal with the discomfort and pain of failure; to look at it as a learning opportunity and to see how they can grow and thrive and learn from that.”

Jo’s reflection that our highest achievers, “Deal with the discomfort and pain of failure [and] look at it as a learning opportunity” reminded me that a true growth mindset is a fundamental belief that no matter how difficult things get, we can emerge from the experience stronger, wiser and more capable.

It’s a reminder to ourselves that every experience is an opportunity to learn and grow; that pushing ourselves beyond what is comfortable might put us at risk of failure but it puts us at even greater risk of development, improvement, growth and resilience.

If they fall, will it kill them?

“Will anybody die?” is the phrase I use to put challenges into perspective, for myself, my kids and my clients. My husband was great at this too when the kids were little and climbing to the top of the playground equipment. “If they fall, will it kill them?” he’d asked, as my anxiety rose with their clambering limbs.

No, they won’t.

There’s risk, sure, but there’s also an opportunity to grow and learn. There’s an opportunity for pride and self belief and a discovery of just what their bodies and minds can do.

That, for us, outweighs the risk of a broken bone.

“Will anybody die?” I ask myself, when I’m nervous about an impending presentation to a large group.

No. I might mess it up, feel awkward, embarrassed, disappointed in myself, but no-one will die. Meanwhile, opportunities to develop my skills and confidence, share the wisdom of my profession and help others stretch before me.


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On the back cover of Carol Dweck’s book, Mindset:The New Psychology of Success,it says, ‘Dweck…shows how a simple idea about the brain can create a love of learning and a resilience that is the basis of great accomplishment in every area.’

High performers – those who push themselves not just to succeed or to win, but to become better in whatever they do – embrace risk and failure because what you learn from failure makes you grow. They will sit with discomfort. They will learn. They will persevere, they will grow and they will succeed, not just in their chosen arena, but as human beings.

6 tips for developing a growth mindset

1. Look for growth opportunities

Opportunities to learn and grow are important at every age and they may be closer than you think. Allow your child to take the lead when planning family events, holidays, even meals for the week. Listen to what your child is trying to tell you when they say “I can do it”. Trust that they’ve got this and allow them the room to have a go at something new, even if you think it’s a bit outside their capabilities right now.

2. Treat setbacks as a path to knowledge

Listen to what you tell your child (and yourself) when things don’t work out. Instead of lamenting when things go wrong, ask “What can we learn from this?” It doesn’t necessarily make things feel any better at the time, but it will definitely help for next time.

3. Allow your child to take chances

Often kids are ready to try new things way before their parents are ready to let them. If big chances terrify you, then start small. Give your kid space to develop their natural curiosity and try to “see what happens” along with them. Encourage them to try new things – after school activities, foods, experiences, ways of doing things they like.

4. Flip thinking with these two phrases

When your child says “I can’t” – Flip it around with “but I can try”: I can’t do this, but I can try.

When your child says “I’m not good at this”  – Flip it around with the powerful words “yet”: “I’m not good at this yet”.


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5. Worry less about using the ‘right’ words or doing the ‘right’ things

Instead, encourage kids to try, to persevere and ask them what they’ve learnt from the experience. Show them that there’s no shame in trying and failing, or saying the wrong thing. Helping them open up and be comfortable with vulnerability is one of the most important things parents can do for their children.

6. Be patient

Encouraging a growth mindset often requires us parents to make some big changes int he way we approach things too. Changing thinking habits that you’ve built up over a lifetime will take time and perseverance but you can do it with awareness and practice. The better at it you get, the more you are able to scaffold your child towards a growth mindset that will open the world to them as time goes by.

How’s your own growth mindset thinking?

Image by Janko Ferlič 

Ellen Jackson

Potential Psychology

Ellen Jackson from Potential Psychology is a psychologist who does things differently. She writes about everyday people and why we do what we do. When she’s not tapping at the laptop she coaches, she teaches and she helps workplaces to solve their people problems. Ellen has been making online friends since before the internet had pictures. You can join her tribe on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and LinkedIn.

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