When my kids were young, they would sometimes come home and tell me that so-and-so was being mean and they weren’t going to be their friend anymore. Calmly, I would listen to them as they vented their anger and sadness. They didn’t want me to tell them that their friend was bad, nor did this REALLY mean that they didn’t want to be their friend. They were mad and they expressed how they felt at that moment.
After they calmed down, they didn’t feel the same way anymore – their feelings shifted just by expressing them. In that moment, I explained that people are always learning and growing and that it’s best to not “put people in a box.” What I meant was that people make mistakes, we are human and humans make mistakes. Humans let people down. Humans even sometimes hurt one another. And most often, it’s unintentional. We need to cut people slack, I said.
From Fixed Mindset to Growth Mindset
With a fixed mindset, we would dig our heals in and label that friend as “mean” and perhaps decide not to be friends anymore.
If you extend that, a fixed mindset tells us that we (and the people around us) need to be flawless, right now, always, and either you “have it or you don’t.”
With a growth mindset, we allow people to make mistakes, we don’t label, and we keep an open mind that people do grow and learn and can always do better, perhaps with some guidance and encouragement.
And it’s really as simple as a mindset shift. Simple, but not always easy.
At Hall Middle School, we have brought the concepts from Carol Dweck’s work on growth mindsets to our teachers, parents, and students. We have asked parents and teachers to read the book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success; held coffee chat discussions, professional development for teachers, and even brought some of the concepts to the students in their Leadership class.
For a growth mindset, it’s like this, your kid says “it’s hard, I can’t do it” and you respond with “Hard is good, give it a few more minutes and I’ll bet you will figure it out.” We encourage those who don’t have it all figured out to take a risk and do all they can to learn and grow. We don’t automatically assume that because they don’t get it now, that they don’t have the capacity or intelligence to figure it out.
Did you know that science is revealing that our brains have a much greater capacity to learn and change than we ever knew before?
It’s true and it really shows up when people push up against the edges of their comfort zone, just a little nudge, and suddenly, they bust through that “barrier” and feel that amazingly great feeling of having accomplished something that they “thought they couldn’t do.” That is the brain growing and changing…in action.
Has that ever happened to you?
You have to do something that feels really hard and you aren’t sure you can figure it out, but you put in the effort, and you are rewarded with the pride that you did it? Yes, it requires a little more effort, but the benefits seem to be worth it!
“In one study, Stanford University’s Lisa Blackwell Ph.D and her colleagues followed hundreds of students making the transition to 7th grade. They found that students with a growth mindset were more motivated to learn and exert effort, and outperformed those with a fixed mindset in math—a gap that continued to increase over the two-year period. Those with the two mindsets had entered 7th grade with similar past achievement, but because of their mindsets their math grades pulled apart during this challenging time.” ~ (Blackwell, L.S., Trzesniewski, K.H., & Dweck, C.S. (2007) Implicit theories of intelligence predict achievement across an adolescent transition: A longitudinal study and an intervention. Child Development, 78. 246-263, Study 1.)
With a growth mindset, we can really cultivate our children’s persistence, enthusiasm, and desire to work hard.
So, how can parents help?
We can begin to focus less on the specific grades that our kids get and instead focus on whether they are adequately challenged, putting in the effort, and feeling inspired to take charge of their own success. We can focus more on what they are learning and how it applies to their lives than “doing school.”
It’s your turn.
Can you post below with some of your ideas for how to cultivate a growth mindset in your family and your life? I’ll bet you think you can’t do it – you might even be saying “I’m not someone who posts responses on blog posts” (insert a smile here) – I get that, and will gently remind you that when you label yourself, you are stuck in a fixed mindset. Push your edge, go slightly outside of your comfort zone, and post. When we push our edges, we begin to feel more alive, capable, and inspired. Go ahead, give it a try!
This is based on Carol Dweck’s work: Mindset: The New Psychology of Success