Nurturing a Growth Mindset

Posted: January 19, 2012 in Monday Morning Message
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“With realization of one’s own potential and self-confidence in one’s ability, one can build a better world.”—Dalai Lama

“I’m stupid Daddy!” is the response I have been getting of late from my youngest daughter Kylie (6) when she struggles with her schoolwork, in particular, math.  As a positive youth development practitioner the statement itself elicits in me the same response as someone using a four-letter curse word.  Why does it bother me so much?  Because first and foremost it is absolutely not true!  My daughter Kylie is smart, independent, and easily figures things out.  She is very persistent at it until she does.   Secondly, her statement is one that will limit her growth if she ever starts believing her own press.  So what do we do to help nurture a growth mindset in our children, members, and ourselves?  Here are a few suggestions:

  • Set high standards within a nurturing environment.  I cannot tell you how many times I have heard a parent, mentor, or teacher answer for a child’s ability by not giving them opportunities that they feel  may push the child too much.  Setting high standards gives young people a challenge and puts them in a position to implore hard work to achieve.  A nurturing environment gives young people the safety to know that they will be valued for who they are regardless of whether or not they succeed.
  • Use wise praise.  One of the primary ways we can create a nurturing environment for our youth is by using praise wisely.  It’s amazing how an innocent statement can be misconstrued.  Like any of our other relationships, the children in our lives can take away messages from our statements that we never intended to send.  Take for instance the statement, “You learned that so quickly!  You’re so smart!”  Most of us would hear this as a supportive and esteem-boosting message.  But listen more closely.  See if you hear another message.  It’s the one that children hear:  If I don’t learn something quickly, I’m not smart[i].  Through the use of wise praise we can point out the high standards we have for achievement and at the same time give youth the kind of support that results in feeling encouraged instead of discouraged[ii].  The following are some phrases and ideas that support a growth mindset:[iii]
    • “That’s being a good learner!”
    • “Great job!  I can see that you really worked hard on that.”
    • “Wow!  You picked the hardest one!”  That was a big challenge; I bet you learned a lot!”
    • “Oops, I made a mistake—let’s celebrate!  Making mistakes helps me learn.”
    • “Awesome effort!  Keep going!”

As we continue to provide opportunities to help our young people thrive, let’s remember to challenge them within an environment that nurtures their growth and makes it safe for them to both succeed and fail.  Kylie, keep trying, your effort will pay off.


[i] Mindset, Carol S. Dweck, Ph.D  pp. 174-175

[ii] iChampion Adult Volunteer Leader Guide, Gemma Miner p.41

[iii] iChampion Adult Volunteer Leader Guide, Gemma Miner p.41

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