Growth Mindset: Teaching Your Child To Deal With Failure

Published Mar 11, 2015

The book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success has great ideas for parenting and teaching about success and failure.

Every once in awhile I find a book that impacts me enough to tell everyone I know about it. 

Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol Dweck is such a book, and I have to tell you, I do think everyone should read it—both for themselves, and especially for their kids.

The book examines how the way you think about success and failure impacts future successes, self-worth and personality growth. Dweck loosely divides people into two groups: fixed-mindset and growth-mindset. Fixed-mindset people find failures devastating. To them, talent is innate. They don’t believe significant changes in their “talents” are possible. Successes and failures define their self-worth. In contrast, growth mind-set individuals see failures as learning opportunities, challenges to be overcome and aid in self-development. Successes are seen as a reward following hard work and learning. They have a more secure sense of self-worth and are less fragile in difficult situations.

Being closer to a fixed mind-set personality myself, I read this and was immediately discouraged. After all, I didn’t believe that I could make significant changes in myself. Dweck defies my fixed mind-set perspective! Through a series of experiments done with Middle School children, she found that teaching a growth mindset is not only possible, but has significant results on performance. She took kids struggling with math, and instead of giving them math tutoring, taught them that the brain is like a muscle that can be exercised and become stronger. These kids’ math scores increased by 1 to 3 letter grades over a semester.

In so many ways, from sports to academics, from music to relationships, this book illustrates how your mindset can either be devastating or motivating in the face of defeat.

With summer and new experiences coming soon, I can’t think of a better time to build up kids with a growth centered mindset. Dweck gives great pointers and illustrations to prepare our kids for success. Here are some of the highlights:

  1. Use praise that sends positive messages about growth and process instead of making judgments. Say, “You really studied for your test, and your hard work paid off!” instead of “You are so smart! You got an A on that test.”
  2. Praise a child when they take on challenges, emphasizing that it may be hard, but they will learn so much. “That homework was really difficult, I admire how you concentrated and finished it.”
  3. When your child doesn’t do well, don’t simply protect them from failure. Help them see where they could do better next time, encourage them that through learning and skills they can do better next time.
  4. Celebrate the effort and small victories. Ice cream always does the trick for my kiddies ;) 
  5. Set high standards. But also equip your child to achieve them. Ask yourself “Am I judging my child, or helping them to think and learn?”
  6. Think about how you define success for your child. Is it based on their grades, sports achievement, school they go to? Or is it based on how much they are developing themselves and learning?

As hard as we may try, we can’t shelter our kids from challenges or difficulties in life. We can teach them healthy ways to interpret both success and failure, ensuring that they are well equipped and robust for the times when things get tough.

Ashley Mead-Robins
By Ashley Mead-Robins
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