How to Nurture a Growth Mindset

According to psychologist Carol Dweck, adults and kids who possess a growth mindset “believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work,” while those people who favor a fixed mindset “believe their basic qualities, like their intelligence or talent, are simply fixed traits.” Having a growth mindset seems to be connected closely with the traits of persistence, resilience and effort — habits we want our kids to learn from an early age.

Parents of young children can monitor their own language and other behaviors in order to decrease the chances of raising children with fixed mindsets. It is very possible to express warmth and give attention without overvaluing and giving excessive praise. Empower your child to self-evaluate for the purpose of working harder, rather than teaching your child to wait for your judgment of her worth.

Consider the following suggestions that compare the many ways you either praise or encourage your child.

  • Avoid comparison to and competition with other children. Focus only on your child’s behavior, the effort he has put in, and the improvement he has shown because of that effort.
  • Monitor your language for signs of overvaluing. Examples include:
    • “You are so smart.” Replace with: “That looks like it took a long time to do. You must have worked really hard,” or “What was the most difficult part of working on that?”
    • “You are so special.” Replace with: “I love you so much and I always will!” or “I noticed you did that a little differently than I did – it’s pretty neat when we can teach each other something new!”
    • “You are a fast runner!” Replace with: “You ran really fast today – you must have been working extra hard!”
    • “You are the most beautiful child.” Replace with: “How fancy you look in that colorful shirt! Can you tell me why you picked that color to wear today?”
    • “Great job.” Replace with: “I noticed you did that all by yourself today.”
    • “You are the best reader!” Replace with: “It seemed like you really enjoyed that story. What did you like about it?” 

Here are some other examples of sentence starters and questions that demonstrate warmth and attention, and therefore can help boost self-esteem without raising levels of narcissism:

  • How do you feel about finishing/doing/making….?
  • Look at the colors you chose! Tell me why you picked those colors.
  • How did you feel jumping into the water for the first time?
  • You just kept trying until you got it.
  • It looks like you put so much work [thought, energy] into….
  • That’s a very interesting idea/project/building. Tell me more.
  • You cleaned up without being reminded at all; now we can be ready to go sooner.
  • Thank you for helping. I noticed that you…
  • You noticed that she was having some trouble. What did you help her with?
  • How did it feel to do that by yourself?
  • I see that you are frustrated, but I know you can do it if you keep trying. Can you tell me how I can help you?

Judy Medoff, M.A., recently retired after 25 years of serving as the founding director of The Price Family Preschool in San Diego, CA. During this time, she taught weekly parent participation classes and developed parenting workshops on many topics. She currently works as an independent consultant for families and schools. Judy lives with her husband in San Diego and visits her two grown children in the Bay Area quite often. She would love to hear your stories and questions:

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