How To Cultivate A Growth Mindset In Your Kids

Kenny was telling me this story the other day, and all I could think of was “Holy Sh&^T, he actually does listen to me!!”  The soccer team he was coaching was in the midst of a really tough, losing season. He had the high school athletes break into pairs. They shared with their partner one thing each they were doing very well this season. As the partner announced it to the entire team, Kenny wrote it on the board. All of a sudden he had a list 20 long of positive things. Next to this list, he wrote in big font the team’s record : 1-8.

He explained to them, with a fixed mindset, this group would be considered terrible at soccer. In a growth mindset, the team is filled with people doing outstanding things, filled with possibility.

We’ve all probably heard of the growth mindset by now. Leading Stanford researcher, Carol Dweck, coined the term several years ago while studying how different kids react to challenges. What came out of the study was the finding that how we praise our kids has a significant impact on their mindset and, subsequently, their academic success.

Our habit is to focus on the result, rather than the effort and strategies that went into the result. We praise our child for winning the game, not for the months of deliberate practice that led up to the game day. We congratulate them for acing the test, rather than for the dedication to learning and studying before exam day.

When we tell our kids that they are brilliant and talented, Dweck says it’s interpreted to: “oh, you think I’m brilliant and talented. That’s why you admire me – that’s why you value me. I better not do anything that will disprove this evaluation.” As a result, they play it safe so they don’t risk failure and prove themselves unworthy of the brilliant and talented title. Playing it safe ends up limiting the growth of their talents. And little perfectionists are born.

How do you cultivate a growth mindset?

(Watch this video or continue reading below.)

1) Praise the effort, not the result

For your youngster when they bring home a piece of artwork, instead of saying “ You are an excellent artist” say “You must have put a lot of thought into being so creative with this artwork”

For your middle schooler when he brings home his first report card, instead of saying “You are a genius!” say “ You must have worked so hard to get these grades!”

For your high schooler who lands the big part in the musical, instead of saying “You were born for the stage” say “ I’m so glad all of your effort rehearsing for the audition paid off for you!”

2) Avoid saying “Don’t Worry, You’ll get it if you keep trying”

Unproductive effort can be frustrating. Praise the person for trying different strategies, not just banging their head against the wall with one that isn’t working.

3) Add in : “Not Yet”

Instead of giving out sub par grades, a university used the growth mindset and instead gave the grade of “Not Yet”. This subtle shift in language showed that the students had the potential to master the concepts, they just hadn’t done so YET. If you hear your child saying something like “I’m not good at math”, just add the word “yet” to the sentence. Model this for your kids so that they understand that our personality traits aren’t fixed and that we all have the ability to learn, grow and change.

Mindfulness can help us be more aware of our own fixed mindset and then we can make a conscious effort to begin to change it.

Perfect is not the goal. 

Our kids’ brains grow more when they get the answer wrong than when they get the answer right.

Kenny’s team has continued to lose games. After one high profile game recently, in which they lost 6-1, the coaches were debriefing with the kids. They asked them for thoughts on the game. 1 player spoke up “All I know is we played our hardest, to the very end. And every sub off the bench, when they stepped on the field, played their hardest as well. I think we should be proud.” I asked Kenny what he thought about this. He waited a minute, and I could see his brain ticking – “I just think about all of the players I have coached over the years, who had to deal with me focusing way too much on the result. Results are great, and when they go your way, they feel amazing, but it’s a shame those kids didn’t get more acknowledgment of everything they poured into each practice and game. Results don’t come free.”


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