Have you ever heard it said, “Attitude is everything”? Did you know you have a unique opportunity to teach your child how to handle stress by modeling it for them? Our job as parents and educators is to encourage children to develop a passion for learning and a desire to push through life’s challenges, both inside and outside of the classroom. This can be achieved by empowering students to take ownership of their attitudes towards learning and performance, seeing failures as learning opportunities through the development of a “growth mindset.”
WHAT IS a "Growth mindset"?
In her book, Mindset, Carol Dweck introduces the idea that there are two basic mindsets that shape our behaviors and, ultimately, our lives. A fixed mindset assumes intelligence and abilities are predetermined and set, and no amount of effort can improve those traits. Statements such as “I am not a good speller.” or “I am not good at math.” or “I am not good in athletics.” come from a fixed mindset.
However, a growth mindset assumes intelligence and basic abilities can be developed through effort and hard work. At the heart of the research, a growth mindset creates an innate desire for learning rather than a need for external approval.
1. Moving from "I Can't" to "Not yet"
Growth mindsets create a love for learning and a passion for facing new challenges. In the classroom, errors are seen as opportunities to stretch the brain rather than as failures. For example, when a word is misspelled, a growth mindset says, “I’ll keep working on it until I get it.”
Even students as young as elementary-aged are capable of understanding this perspective, with a framework that says, “When I make mistakes, I think about how my brain is stretching and growing, and I keep trying until I get it right!”
When parents hear phrases like “I can’t do this.”, the addition of one simple word, yet, can make all the difference. By gently redirecting your child to say instead “I can’t do this yet.”, parents can help improve how students view themselves as they face learning challenges.
2. Focus on Effort, Not Grades
For parents, shifting to a growth mindset impacts the way test grades are viewed. Instead of focusing on the number or letter grades, we can focus on efforts so that the end result will be a love for the learning process. Parents can choose to say, “How can we work together to make sense of this concept?” or “Look how you’re improving - you are starting to master this concept!”
NBA legend Michael Jordan is a great example of adopting a growth mindset. He once said, “I’ve always believed that, if you put in the work, the results will come. I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career and lost 300 games. Sixteen times, I’ve been trusted to take the game-winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over again - and that is why I succeed. My attitude is that I will turn a perceived weakness into a strength.” Effort, not perfection, is at the heart of the matter.
Indeed, the research on growth mindset is clear: by simply and honestly praising real effort, student performance improves, with students choosing to tackle even more difficult challenges in the future.1
3. Try SomethiNG New
In our current culture of early specialization, trying something new with no guarantee of success can be intimidating. But, by simply trying new activities with the view that this is an opportunity to grow, students can stretch themselves.
Parents can encourage their children to try at least one new activity a year, sticking with it for the duration of the music lesson, language or arts course, or sports season. This focus on trying new things encourages creativity, builds resilience and self-esteem, and may result in your child finding a love for a new skill, hobby, or other activity. Again, praising earnest effort versus labeling intelligence or “natural ability” can lead to improved future success.
4. Encourage Others
Employing a growth mindset impacts every area of life, including social interactions and friendships. Savvy students can learn to handle criticism by figuring out ways to turn negatives into a positive. This simple technique has powerful implications on brain development, impacting one’s belief system and self-esteem.
Further, by developing a growth mindset, students become more creative and motivated within the classroom. Rather than viewing peers as competition, students learn to celebrate the success of their fellow classmates, recognizing we are all on the journey of learning and growing together. By adopting this framework, students develop empathy and become natural encouragers, feeling like part of a team who works together to accomplish the same goal of learning new concepts.
4. VIEW STRESS FROM A NEW PERSPECTIVE
How does your family handle stress? In general, is stress viewed in a positive or negative way in your home? Emerging research suggests that how we view stress can have a profound impact on a child's performance. As an extension of this idea of growth mindset being a performance enhancer, Dr. Andrew Huberman shares in his podcast how stress can also assist or detract from performance, depending on how you think about it.1
We model for our children how to handle stress, whether we demonstrate being stressed out by circumstances daily or whether we channel that stress into positive energy. Studies have shown that children whose parents struggle in negative ways from anxiety are two to seven times more likely to struggle with anxiety. Wouldn’t it be a powerful tool to learn that we can model a better response to stress simply by working on our own attitudes toward stress? Acknowledging that stress can enhance our performance has huge implications, both in the classroom as well as on the stage or on the field of play.
Teachers, coaches, and parents can help children understand that stress can work for them, not against them, and that it can be used to their advantage. Everyone feels stressed at some point during the day or week, but what we do with the stress is key. Instead of allowing ourselves to focus on the physical manifestations of stress - the racing heart, the adrenalin pumping, that feeling of nervousness - which can lead to diminished performance, having the knowledge that stress can be a good thing makes all the difference. By channeling nervous energy from the negative (eg. “stage fright”) to the positive, actors, musicians, dancers, and athletes can use the boost of adrenaline to deliver peak performance. The same is true for students within the classroom. Encourage your child to focus on how stress can help them perform better on a test or presentation rather than focusing on their nerves or on what could go wrong.
By reframing language with students from using performance labels to recognizing effort, educators, coaches, and parents can encourage students to begin the shift towards developing a healthy growth mindset. No longer will children focus on what they’ve been told they are good at. Instead, these young learners will be empowered to change what they can control - their effort and attention.
Developing a growth mindset is but one way to help your child learn, build self-esteem, develop empathy for and encourage others, and practice creativity. To learn more about how students can maximize their potential and develop good study habits and life skills, parents may want to learn more about the 11 Executive Functions, as featured in WingTips.
Dana Gray is the lower school counselor for Mount Paran Christian School.
For more information about academics at Mount Paran Christian School, including directed and advanced studies, click here.