Cultivating a growth mindset in our children

“Sometimes the problem with a child isn’t too little effort. It’s too much. And for the wrong cause. We’ve all heard about schoolchildren who stay up past midnight every night studying. Or children who are sent to tutors so they can outstrip their classmates. These children are working hard, they’re typically not in a growth mindset. They’re not focused on love of learning. They’re usually trying to prove themselves to their parents.”

I’ve been reading and enjoying Mindset by Carol Dweck (affiliate link). In her years of research as a world-renowned psychologist, Carol has found that there exists two different mindsets in people. They either have a fixed mindset or a growth mindset.

The growth mindset says: Go for it. Make it happen. Develop your skills. Learn from your mistakes.

The fixed mindset says: Don’t do it. Don’t take the risk. Others may see that you’re not as talented as you ought to be.

People with fixed mindsets are constantly judging (themselves and well as others). The underlying assumption is that character traits are fixed and unchangeable.

People with growth mindsets are observing but not judging. They’re always asking: What can I learn from this? How can I improve? How can I help my partner do better?

Moving from a fixed to a growth mindset entails “changing the internal monologue from a judging one to a growth-oriented one.”

Some tips from her book:

  • Encourage to enjoy – help remind your children to enjoy the things they are learning, be it piano, dance or speech and drama.
  • Study to understand – encourage them to study for understanding, not for cramming and regurgitating it on exam papers, and not merely for grades
  • Focus on process – talk to them about the learning process rather than the outcome
  • Praise them for effort and for trying something new or challenging. Try not to focus on results alone.

We can also help our kids along by asking the right questions:

  • What did you learn today?
  • What mistake did you make that taught you something?
  • What did you try hard at today?

Perhaps the most difficult thing for us as parents is actually living the growth mindset out. Modelling how it should be is always a lot harder, especially since most of us have some degree of fixedness in certain areas.

It’s about believing that you can grow, and that you still have much to learn. (The same goes for our kids.)

It’s about giving voice to courage, being willing to try new things and facing up to the risk of  failure, or at least not letting fear make you run in the other direction.

I used to run the other direction. When I was in school, I didn’t like failing, so I made sure I didn’t try so hard. (It just ain’t cool to be trying hard and then failing, you know?)

When stuff like A Maths got too difficult in Secondary Four, I remember going through a mental debate. My fixed-oriented self said “Drop it, you’re not good at maths, just forget it, it’s not worth the effort to struggle without knowing what you’re going to get.” My growth-oriented self said “Give it a shot. You never know…You might surprise yourself.”

I went for it in the end, despite my teacher pushing me in the other direction. I can’t take much credit for going ahead, because I probably wouldn’t have done so if not for a friend who was in the same boat and who encouraged me to go through with it.

I didn’t top the class, but I was happy with the result, and boy did I mug for it.

Now, as a working adult, it’s a constant drive to achieve good results for my clients. From my recent work experiences, I’ve learnt that you can really grow and stretch beyond your means by stepping out of your comfort zone, and not by sticking to what you’re comfortable with.

As I continue to grow in various aspects and in different roles, I hope to be able to model this growth mindset to my children, that they may catch it and run their own race.

May this be a little reminder to us:

“You may have needed a daughter who was number one in everything, but your daughter needed something else: Acceptance from her parents and freedom to grow.”

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