Emotional Regulation · Self-regulation

Getting into the GROWTH mindset

Papaya? Nope, don’t like it. Playing soccer? No way! I’ve got zero foot coordination. How about riding the world’s tallest roller coaster? You have fun with that!

Papaya, playing soccer, and riding the world’s tallest roller coaster automatically trigger my fixed mindset — I *know* I don’t like these things, so I’m not going to spend any time or effort trying to develop an interest in them. The opposite of the fixed mindset is a growth mindset, by which I would challenge myself and take a bite of that papaya — maybe I don’t hate it as much as I remember hating it as a child. Or maybe I don’t necessarily ride the world’s *tallest* roller coaster (let’s be real), but I face some of my fear of heights by trying out Goofy’s Sky School ride at Disneyland (along with the rest of the 3- and 4-year olds…).

Last May, Dr. Carol Dweck, Stanford professor and one of the world’s leading researchers in the field of motivation, delivered her latest research on growth mindsets at Education Week’s Leaders to Learn From conference in Washington D.C.

Fixed mindset = When a person believes their basic qualities, like talent and intelligence, are fixed traits. They believe that talent alone, without effort, creates success.

Growth mindset = When a person believes that brains and talent are just the starting point, but that it can be developed through dedication and hard work.

When a child has a fixed mindset, they “never look dumb,” but they also don’t work hard or seek help, and run from difficulty. When a child has a growth mindset, they work hard, use different strategies, seek help to learn, and learn from their mistakes.

Cultivating a growth mindset is not the easiest thing. Clearly, even I, an educated and “mature” adult (…who’s admittedly still afraid of roller coasters), have a fixed mindset about certain things…and that’s okay! Before we can begin to instill a growth mindset in our children and students, we need to come to terms with the fact that we all have a mixture of fixed and growth mindsets. No, I will never join a competitive soccer league (except possibly for entertainment’s sake? I hate soccer!!!), but my dislike for soccer is not a deal breaker in life — having a fixed mindset in this case is A-okay. But when it comes to things that matter, like my credit card getting hacked into and some rando dropping a casual $400, this is no time for settling. I start asking questions, making moves: Did I enter my credit card information into an insecure website? Did anyone else have access to my card? Gotta call customer support!

So how do we help children develop a growth mindset?

First, some common misunderstandings that educators have about a growth mindset is that it means a) being open-minded, b) telling students they can do anything, and c) encouraging effort. Dr. Dweck argues, and I agree, that while effort is highly important, learning and improvement are what ultimately matters. You can think of effort as just one route to learning and movement. For example, you might say “You would have done better if you’d tried harder,” or “Keep trying and you’ll get it.” Well, maybe the child might’ve gotten it, but maybe they wouldn’t have. And if the child doesn’t get it, they might start doubting themselves. 😦 A growth mindset-option to consider asking instead would be “What strategies have you tried?” and “What will you try next?”

Dr. Dweck’s research has found that parents tend to respond to their child’s setbacks or failures in one of two ways:

  1. Failure as harmful. The parent either displays anxiety and concern, or says “That’s okay!”, which, to a child, translates to “You don’t think I have the ability.” → This response promotes a fixed mindset.
  2. Failure as a matter of fact. It’s neither super positive or negative, but it’s helpful: “Interesting! Let’s see where we can go from here.” → This response promotes a growth mindset.

All that said, SLPs and parents alike can use the following practices to help foster a growth mindset:

  • Teach for conceptual understanding. Provide clear feedback and a chance for the child to try again.
  • When your child or student is stuck, say, “Show me what you’ve done, and let’s figure out what you can try next.”
  • Treat failures as beneficial for learning.
  • Focus on child or student’s process, and tie it to learning.
  • Link learning to larger goals. Kids are so much more motivated when they can see what’s down the road.
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