Cultivate a growth mindset

by Hettie Visser

Do we want to raise children who fear failure or would we rather have children who embrace challenges? It all depends on the way they see themselves and it is our responsibility to help them to develop the right mindset.

The child with a growth mindset believes you can get smarter and that success is about stretching yourself. The child with a fixed mindset believes that he is born smart and doesn’t make any mistakes. This mindset is already being formed in the preschool years.

Benjamin Barber, an eminent sociologist, says he doesn’t divide the world into successes and failures but into learners and non-learners. What would make someone into a non-learner? Babies are born with an intense drive to learn and to stretch their skills – the most difficult skills of a lifetime, like learning to walk and talk. Babies never decide something is too hard or not worth the effort. They don’t worry about making mistakes or humiliating themselves. They walk, fall and get up. 

What could then put an end to this irrepressible learning process? The answer is the fixed mindset. Professor Carol Dweck, a leading researcher in the field of developmental psychology, did a study with four year olds. After building an easy puzzle they were given the choice of building the same puzzle or a more difficult one. A child with the fixed mindset answered: I’ll do the same one. I don’t do mistakes.” A child with the growth mindset said: “I’m dying to figure out the difficult ones!” This example demonstrates that children with the fixed mindset want to make sure they succeed. But for children with the growth mindset success is about stretching themselves. It’s about becoming smarter.

The good news is that mindsets are pliable — and preschool years offer a rich developmental window for parents and teachers interested in nurturing a growth mindset in children.

Characteristics of the fixed mindset:Preschoolers-and-Praise

• Avoids challenges

• Gives up easily when facing obstacles

• Sees effort as fruitless

• Ignores constructive criticism

• Feels threatened by the success of others.

Characterisitics of a growth mindset:Preschoolers-and-Praise1

• Embraces challenges

• Persists in the face of setbacks

• Sees effort as the path to mastery

• Learns from criticism

• Finds lessons and inspiration in the success of others.

Guidelines to develop a growth mindset:

1. Replace Generic Praise with Process Praise

“Generic praise is easy to give — Well done! Excellent work! Wow! — but these statements lack instructional value. The most effective praise emphasizes one of three things: a child’s effort, a child’s strategies, or a child’s actions. The trick is to help kids tie their success to the strategies and steps they are taking.” In contrast, descriptive statements — also called “process praise”— share specific observations about children’s choices and efforts. They are teaching statements because they provide information children can use in the future. (Dr. Carissa Romero, director of programs at Stanford University’s Project for Education Research That Scales).

2. “When your child is struggling on something or has setbacks, don’t focus on their abilities, focus on what they can learn from it. One way is to ask a child: “How can you use this as a jumping-off point?” (Kyla Haimovitz,  professor of psychology at Stanford University)

3. The word “yet” reframes the sentence away from present frustration and toward future possibility.

“You can’t do it yet. You are still learning. But keep trying.”

4. Tell Stories of Resilience

Telling stories from family life is a powerful vehicle for shaping children’s understanding of how the world works.

The best thing teachers and parents can do is to teach the children to love challenges, be inspired to rectify mistakes, enjoy effort and keep on learning. The growth mindset must be modelled and lived by parents and teachers.


• Preschoolers and Praise: What Kinds of Messages Help Kids Grow?  By Deborah Farmer Kris JUNE 10, 2015

• Mindset  by dr Carol S. Dweck

Hettie Visser is a kindergarten teacher at Mooltripakdee International School.

Pin It on Pinterest