“I’m not good at this- why should I try?”
“This is too hard for me.”
“I’m not a math person.”
These are phrases that can break a mama’s heart! Hearing our children say these negative things about their abilities is disheartening. They are the sign of a fixed mindset- the idea that we are born with certain capacities and we can’t change that. The opposite of a fixed mindset, a growth mindset, is when a child (or grown-up!) understands that they can change and grow by putting effort into something. Instead of giving up before a task even starts, people with a growth mindset know that they can do hard things. A growth mindset is reflected in the motto for a Charlotte Mason education: I am, I can, I ought, I will.
When people have a fixed mindset, they avoid challenges and taking risks because they don’t want to fail. They assume that they aren’t good at something, so they shouldn’t even try. It can also go the opposite way: if they are told they’re really good at something, then they have a natural gift and hard work isn’t needed. On the radio awhile ago, 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. The children in this school were motivated to work hard and reach their fullest potential.
The radio show also explained an experiment on growth mindset. 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 the negative and positive views we have of ourselves.
Children with a growth mindset are those who are not afraid to try new things. They understand that making a mistake is part of the learning process, and instead of giving up, they keep working at it. A growth mindset is so important as we educate our children! We want them to work through problems and know that they can solve them without feeling frustrated or down on themselves.
So How Do We Develop a Growth Mindset?
Watch what you say.
What we say to our children is a huge factor in growth mindset. Our words often sink in deep, even if we don’t think twice about them.
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 that we need to work on. This is something I need to stop doing ASAP! Miss H was asked to find something this morning, and she returned empty handed. I said, “You aren’t a very good finder!” I’m destined to find everything for my daughter until she’s 18 unless I quit limiting her in this way!
Use the word “yet”
This one little word tacked onto the end of a sentence can make a big change in a child’s perspective! A couple of years ago, It took Miss H a long time to figure out her Strider bike. She even wanted to get 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.” After some practice, she figured that bike out and made it fly! She graduated on to a two-wheeler with training wheels, and even though figuring out the pedaling part was tricky at first, her attitude was so much different! She wanted to practice as much as she could because she knew she’d get better. As her mother, witnessing that change in her was priceless!
When we teach our children the idea that not knowing how to do something now does not mean never knowing, our words change-
“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.”
“Old habits die hard.”
Watch your reactions
When Miss H spills a glass of milk, it is so easy to want to jump on her case about it. But this gives her the message that making mistakes is bad. To develop a growth mindset, we have to teach our children that we learn through mistakes, and we have to allow them opportunities to fail. Now, I give a sympathetic smile, hand her a towel, and she cleans up the milk. She’s solving the problem instead of beating herself up over it.
It’s equally important that we teach our children that they do have limits. No, they won’t be able to fly. No, maybe they won’t always be the very best at something. Singing might not be something they are naturally gifted in, and no amount of hard work will make them sound angelic. That’s okay. Growth mindset, and a Charlotte Mason education, is about helping our children reach their fullest potential. We want to help fill the vase, not make the vase.
Did you grow up with a fixed mindset or a growth mindset?
Leah this was such a great read! I never thought of a fixed mind set vs a growth mindset. Thank you for the explanation between the two and for your examples. It really helped me to see how I need to change how I say things especially to my oldest. Thank you!
My Daily She says
This is such great advice! It’s funny how somewhat simple things can make such a huge difference.
It is funny! These habits creep up on me!
This is a very interesting article. I hadn’t thought about fixed vs. growth mindset before. Thanks for the information.
I’m glad it gave you some food for thought!
The difference between a fixed and growth mindset are incredible. Thanks for these tips!
You’re welcome! I love your blog- so many fun things you all are doing at home!
Rhiannon Skeen says
Leah, this was great! Very helpful info as I work with Ella Bear. I had not thought about using “yet”, great idea. Really enjoyed this!
Thank you so much, Rhiannon! It is so great that you are thinking about these things already! I wish I had concentrated more on a growth mindset when H was younger.
Terryn Winfield says
I so appreciate your words! I have 6 kids, and my oldest is 12. I find myself struggling with a lot of these things too, even though I know better. It is almost harder the older they get. You make a great point when you mention we need to stop telling our kids who they are. Gave me a lot to think about.
I can see how it would be more difficult with older ones! I notice that for me, the busier I get, the less intentional I am with what I say. I’m sure life will only get more hectic as my kids get older!
Excellent thoughts! Something to consider with all three of my kids. Thanks for sharing.