A few years ago, I spoke with a mom who told me her son was having a hard time with reading. He didn’t like to practice because thought he was “bad at it.” His impression of himself as a reader was formed, and he couldn’t be convinced otherwise. This view that we are what we are, and that we can’t change is called a fixed mindset. The opposite of a fixed mindset is a growth mindset. That’s the perspective that if you work hard enough, you can solve the problem or achieve the goal. A growth mindset is reflected in the motto for a Charlotte Mason education: I am, I can, I ought, I will.
People who have a fixed mindset avoid challenges and taking risks, because they don’t want to fail. They assume that they aren’t good at something, so why try? I sometimes see the seeds of a fixed mindset in Miss H, and I try to fight it every single day.
On the radio awhile back, I heard a story about a school for “gifted” children. However, they were never told they were gifted. This was based off of research and the school’s own experience: when children are told that they’re smart, good at math, etc., they quit working hard. In an experiment, two groups of children were asked to choose some tasks to complete. The children who were told they were good at the tasks chose easier ones to complete. The children who didn’t receive that praise chose more difficult tasks to complete. Fixed mindset involves not only negative views of ourselves, but positive views as well.
So How Do We Develop a Growth Mindset?
We like to think that words don’t hurt us, but they do, and they especially affect children. To develop a growth mindset, we need to be mindful of how we praise our kids.
Avoid blanket statements- These statements make a generalization about your child’s abilities.
- You’re smart!
- You’re so good at reading!
- You aren’t a good ______
Lately I’ve noticed myself saying some of these about habits. I know! Miss H was asked to find something this morning, and she returned empty handed. I said, “You aren’t a very good finder!” Oh great… I’m destined to find everything for my daughter until she’s 18 unless I quit telling her who she is.
Use the word “yet”- It’s amazing how this one little word tacked onto the end of a sentence changes a child’s outlook! It took Miss H a long time to figure out her Strider Bike. We even thought about getting rid of it because it just didn’t seem like her thing. Every time she looked up at me with sad eyes and said, “I’m not good at riding my bike,” I replied, “Maybe not yet, but we’ll keep working on it.” Now she rides really well and she’s ready for a two-wheeler any day! I know it’s tempting to say, “Yes you are! You’re a great bike rider!” but that is also a fixed mindset statement. The “yet” response can work for so many different situations.
“I’m not strong enough.” becomes “You aren’t strong enough yet.”
“I don’t understand how to do this,” becomes “You don’t understand how to do this yet.”
Avoid fixed mindset cliches- A fixed mindset shows up in our culture in the form of cliches. Let’s stop using them.
“You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.”
“Once a loser, always a loser.”
According to this article, only praising effort isn’t really effective because sometimes kids try hard but still don’t improve. Focusing on working hard and the improvement they make is productive. The article also says that reacting anxiously to failures can also maintain a fixed mindset (you should probably just go read the article. It’s really good!)
I think the tide is changing on this. Here’s praying that we can raise a generation of young people who know how to work hard, persevere, and think positively about their God-given abilities.