One little change in how you talk to your kids can help them be more successful.

Categories: Health & Nutrition

Why didn't anybody tell me this?

When expecting a child, a lot of parents tend to read anything they can get their hands on to figure out what to expect during pregnancy and the first few years of life. They tell you how to feed your baby, how often to take them to the doctor, and how to prevent choking tragedies and all kinds of other hazards.

Ideas about learning start early. Image by Donnie Ray Jones/Flickr.

But very few people are spreading the word about one simple thing you can do to help your child be successful.

Dr. Carol Dweck, a researcher who is pioneering a shift in how we view motivation in humans, is one of the few evangelizing about how to instill a growth mindset instead of a fixed mindset. Her talk on this was recently turned into an RSA Animate video. Another public figure trying to spread the word is Sal Khan from Khan Academy.

The quickest way to explain what it means to instill a growth mindset is: Praise your child explicitly for how capable they are of learning rather than telling them how smart they are.

For instance, here are how some conversations would play out to instill one type of mindset over the other:

FIXED MINDSET: "You read that sentence in the book — you are so smart!"

GROWTH MINDSET: "You read that sentence in the book — you worked so hard to learn how to do that and now you can! Congratulations!"

FIXED MINDSET: "You finished that puzzle so quickly — what a smart kid!"

GROWTH MINDSET: "I'm sorry I wasted your time with an easy puzzle — let me find another one that will give us a bigger challenge. I know we can do it!"

FIXED MINDSET: "You got an 80% on your test." (And then moving on to the next chapter immediately.)

GROWTH MINDSET: "You got an 80% on your test; that means you are well on your way to knowing this stuff! If you review the ones you missed and take the test again tomorrow, I bet you'll get closer to a 100%."

It's a subtle shift in messaging, but the difference it makes can be huge.

When you change your approach to praise, you're changing the achievement marker (reading a sentence or getting an 80% on a test) from a value judgment on the inherent intellect of the child to a series of messages throughout your child's life that instead places value on the process of learning.

It means a child's self-worth and confidence in trying things for the first time doesn't become tied to how well they can immediately perform or how inherently smart they are because they know they have more than one chance to prove themselves.

This isn't just a theory or some New-Age hippie-dippie parenting trend.

Through field research with a class of seventh graders, Dweck has begun proving that a growth mindset can make a significant difference. She and her team tracked a group of kids who entered their school year with almost identical test scores and noted which kids displayed growth mindset attitudes at the beginning and which ones held the beliefs of a fixed mindset.

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