Intelligence: Does your child believe that it is fixed at birth or that it is something that can grow?
Carol Dweck, a leading researcher in the field of motivation, has found that children hold either a fixed mindset or a growth mindset when they think about their own and others intelligence. Have you heard your child say, “Oh she is just smarter than me,” or “I’m dumber than them”? Those with a fixed mindset believe that their basic talents and abilities are decided at birth and that they have a certain amount of intelligence or talent, and that’s that and can’t be changed. This is the mindset that saps children’s motivation and stunts their mind because they don’t see the point in persisting in learning things that they find difficult.
In contrast, those who have a growth mindset believe that their most basic talents and abilities can be developed through practice, learning and support from others. They tend to work harder and ask for help. They are more likely to say, “I’m going to practise that until I get it,” or “I don’t get this and can you help me?”They understand that even a genius like Einstein needed to put in years and years of dedicated study to make his discoveries. They are not afraid of using trial and error to figure something out and they often get a buzz out of new challenges.
Any learning develops new pathways in the brain. However, what is interesting is that our children might indeed believe that if they practise hard they can continue to develop skills in many games and sports such as skateboarding, basketball, and computer and board games, but not believe that a similar amount of effort and good coaching will mean they can also develop skills in areas such as Maths, Science, and English. However, if you believe that any learning is growing the brain’s pathways, you can convince your children that effort and good learning strategies will mean that they can also learn academic subjects that they thought were impossible to master.
Professor Carol Dweck makes the point that many of us who think we’re doing the right thing by our children when we tell them they’re little geniuses and champions may be actually hindering more than helping them. It is better to praise them for the determination, effort, and clever strategies they are using when they are mastering new skills.
1. Kids with a fixed mindset only care about looking smart and therefore avoid challenging learning tasks. Kids with a growth mindset and who therefore don’t have anything to prove, tackle challenging learning tasks with gusto.
2. Kids with a fixed mindset believe if you have to make an effort it means you’re not smart. Kids with a growth mindset understand that hard work and practice make you smarter.
3. Kids with a fixed mindset regard setbacks as failings. Kids with a growth mindset regard setbacks as a natural part of learning.
Dweck says these results explain why so many children with a fixed mindset give up, run away, and become defensive. She says that when we see our children acting bored, or acting out, or blaming the teacher, it’s often because they are trying to hide the fixed mindset fear of not looking smart. When we praise intelligence we tend to create a fixed mindset in our children but if we praise process (effort, strategies, focus and persistence) we are more likely to create a growth mindset in them.
Ways to help your child believe they can grow their intelligence
The good news is it is possible to teach a growth mindset to our children. We can help them realise that every time they push out of their comfort zone and learn something difficult and new, they grow new neural connections. I know how excited and empowered I felt when I realised that the brain can be developed just like a muscle!
Carol Dweck believes that it is a basic human right for children to live in environments that help them grow their abilities and fulfill their potential. The manual Coaching your children to be excellent students and my posts have straightforward tips which help you develop such a learning environment at home so that your children will believe in themselves as students and grow their own ability to learn.
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