There is a Chinese saying – Be not afraid of growing slowly, be afraid of standing still. A more modern and succinct interpretation might also sound familiar to you - ‘have a growth mindset’, a term that was coined by American psychologist Carol Dweck in 2006. The message from ancient Chinese folk wisdom and 21st century academic research is the same: those who view learning as a continuous process of improvement put themselves in a better position to succeed in the long run than those who pigeonhole themselves early according to fixed ideas of intelligence, talent or disposition.
While having a growth mindset can be helpful for everyone in general, it is especially important for children who are still in the early stages of their development, to build the habits and attitudes that will serve as a foundation for the years ahead. Here are 5 ways you can nurture a growth mindset in your child.
One of the key principles that underpins the growth mindset is to focus more on the process, instead of the outcome. In practice, this means that parents should praise children not just for securing better results in tests or exams, but also for making more of an effort or showing progress.
For example, you will sometimes encounter a scenario where you know that your child has put in the work and effort to improve but the scores do not reflect that effort - look a little deeper past the score. Your child may have scored better for a particular section he or she always had difficulties with previously or solved a tricky problem for the first time. That’s progress, and your child deserves your praise!
Psychologist Carol Dweck’s research on adolescent students has found that those who were praised for effort rather than scores were more likely to embrace harder challenges in the future, whereas students only praised for scores were conditioned into rejecting new challenges that they felt they could not succeed in.
But what if your child has nothing to show for his or her painstaking efforts? If you believe in the value of a growth mindset, you should be encouraging them anyway. A different approach or an overhaul of study habits may be in order, and our teachers at The Learning Lab will be more than happy to give their professional support and work with you to bolster your child’s weak spots.
Failure, however galling it may be to accept in the moment, is an unavoidable part of the learning process. And it is a key ingredient for nurturing a growth mindset too. By celebrating mistakes without blaming or judging, you help prevent the fear of failure and shame from developing in your child, which in turn makes him or her unafraid of trying new things and continuing to try.
For instance, a child who would otherwise have been demoralised by a single bad Science test in Primary 3 can instead be enabled by your words and behaviour to develop his or her acumen and interest in the subject. The growth mindset is about leaving doors open for your child to walk through if he or she chooses to do so, instead of shutting them permanently.
As we have already noted, the process is key in nurturing a growth mindset. This means that children have to experience the process themselves in order to learn and adopt the mindset, including all the bumps and mistakes along the way. As parents, you should refrain from taking too active a role in this process, because over-parenting robs kids of the opportunity to fail in the first place, depriving them of precious learning opportunities. It also induces the formation of a less-desirable mindset, where your child begins to expect Daddy or Mummy to always step in to solve his or her problems.
To paraphrase the Chinese saying above, this would be akin to your child standing still, always waiting for you to carry him or her. A more hands-off approach also builds independence, resilience and problem-solving skills, which are all important qualities that will only become more so as your child gets older.
Don’t shut down questions from your child just because they’re not part of “what’s being tested”. Reward their sense of curiosity instead when they want to know why an answer is right, because they are making the extra effort to go beyond unthinking acceptance of the “right answer”. Knowing why might not earn your child extra marks, but it does make your child a more engaged and motivated learner.
If your child’s question confounds you (also a good sign - your child is asking difficult questions!), the Internet is but a click or tap away. And if you don’t find what you’re looking for, get your child to ask their teachers during the next class.
Children learn by example, and from their parents’ examples more than anyone else. Regale your child with examples from your own life when you kept going despite failure or naysayers. If your child is present when you make a mistake or encounter something frustrating, take the opportunity to show your child how someone with a growth mindset reacts. Bonus points if you can show the growth mindset in action, instead of telling them a story from a few years ago or from your childhood!
No child can be good at everything. But many children prove to be good at more things than they or their parents thought possible should they be encouraged to approach their learning with a growth mindset.
At The Learning Lab, we recognise the importance of nurturing learners with well-rounded skill-sets who can adapt to new challenges and thrive.
Who was the best teacher you ever had? Which mentor immediately stands out as the one who has been most influential and inspirational in your life? This could have been a teacher from primary school, secondary school or junior college. It could be a tutor or even your dance instructor. Whoever it was, your teacher was someone who was an absolute master at helping you learn far more than you ever imagined possible.
Bring to mind a clear image of this remarkable teacher. Hear your teacher’s voice, concentrating on not only its unique cadence and tone but also something they have said that has stuck with you throughout all these years. Feel the inspiration that still lives within you as a result of your relationship with this teacher. Think about the personal qualities this person exuded that commanded your respect and reverence.
As you recall memories of this individual who was such a powerful role model in your life, it is likely that you can identify and list certain personal characteristics that were most memorable. As you review this list of qualities, it may surprise you to realise that very few of these notable attributes have to do with the content of what this teacher taught.
As some of the most influential role models for developing students, teachers are responsible for more than just academic enrichment. If you want to be a great educator, you must connect with your pupils and reach them on multiple levels, because the best teachers are committed to their students’ well-being both inside and outside the classroom. By forging strong relationships, educators are able to affect virtually every aspect of their students’ lives, teaching them the important life lessons that will help them succeed beyond term papers and standardized tests.