Growth Mindset

Growth Mindset is a term that is now commonly used in schools; and you will sometimes hear people talk about it in wellbeing settings too. Growth Mindset was a term coined by Dr. Carol Dweck following her research into student’s attitude to failure. Dr. Dweck identified that people either had a Growth Mindset or a Fixed Mindset. A growth mindset describes the underlying beliefs people have about learning and intelligence. When students believe they can get smarter and that intelligence is not fixed, they understand that effort makes them stronger. They then put in more time and more effort, and that leads to higher achievements and better outcomes. They are, intrinsically motivated to participate in activities.

So we can see that having a school ethos of Growth Mindset will support children to have a positive attitude about their abilities, not just for now but what they CAN achieve. In the work I do with families, with children and with my training facilitation, the power of supporting a growth mindset is in building a child’s resilience.

Advances in neuroscience have shown us that the brain is malleable, and with brain plasticity we can change how neurons connect to one another. We have the power to initiate neural networks to grow new connections. We can also strengthen existing ones; and we can speed up the transmission of impulses between the connection. These neuroscientific discoveries have shown us that we can increase our neural growth by our own actions. There are positive strategies for this that fit with wellbeing/self care/healthy lifestyle choices, such as nutrition and sleep. Furthermore we can use strategies that are classed as Growth Mindset to develop new habits, such as seeing challenges as learning opportunities and the understanding that you haven’t failed, but that you haven’t achieved a particular target YET.

When we repeatedly react to an event or situation in a similar way, we reinforce the neural pathway to associate the reaction as the expected reaction for that situation. This can serve us very well or very poorly. In practice this means that as adults we need to work very hard to notice these connections, why we have that thought/association, and then make a new habit that we need to practice, practice, practice, to create the neural pathway and then embed it to make it the expected reaction. As parents, educators and trainers, we have the privilege of being able to support children to develop these habits and understand and make sense of themselves in the world, in a growth mindset manner. This allows them to build awesome foundations for their own future AND for their wellbeing; which will include academic and personal achievements.

As we now know we can change a mindset from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset, it is important that we embed some simple tools into our everyday life, especially in our conversations with children (and ourselves!) and in how we react. The simplest way I have found to implement this in a professional setting is with praise. My generation was brought up to believe that all praise was brilliant and to be encouraged, as praise is 100% positive encouragement. Even more recently the belief that all undesirable childhood behaviours can be fixed or improved upon with a reward chart is everywhere. They are often likened to an adult earning their salary as a ‘reward’ for work, and so the explanation continues that it is teaching a child how the world works. Unfortunately praise is not created equal, and extrinsic rewards hinder children to have a growth mindset. Praising children by telling them how smart they are encourages a fixed mindset; whereas when you praise their hard work and their effort to complete or attempt a task, you are cultivating a growth mindset. The beauty of a growth mindset is that children are then more likely to take on more challenges (even when they don’t expect to be able to complete them) as they see these challenges as an opportunity to learn. This in turn increases their abilities and it increases their achievement.

I deliver training to professionals on growth mindset, and if I was paid by the number of times I was told how hard it is to not say ‘Good Boy / Girl’ because it is instinctive; I would be very rich indeed! So my practical and realistic tip is always this: Notice and Extend. Notice that you have said it, and then extend the comment with an observation or further dialogue. “Good Girl, I watched you climb all the way to the top of the climbing frame on your own. I could see that you were concentrating on working it out” or “Good Boy, you wanted to put your own coat on and kept trying until you figured it out.”

In time the narrative part of the praise will be easier and more instinctive. If you are struggling with the narrative, think about what it is you are actually praising for. If there is a reason you’ll more easily be able to find a narrative; and if you’re saying it for something to say, then you’re probably seeking to make a positive connection with the child and will need to find your own new go to phrase or question for this.

If thinking about a narrative to say sounds all a bit too clinical when talking to your own children, then think of it a bit like the program catchphrase with the presenters reminding us to ‘say what you see’. For instance you can comment on the colours used in a painting, ask what they enjoyed drawing/making the most, and ask what the tricky parts were. Children enjoy our interaction immensely, and connecting through play is valuable beyond measure; but we can show we are enjoying ourselves being with them with our facial expressions, our tone and our body language.

Most of all though, remember to be kind to yourself when adopting this new approach, after all, you have a new neural pathway to create and that takes lots of practice!

About Rachel Brydon

Rachel is the founder of Calm in the Chaos and the lead trainer of their own program of training courses as well as Mini Me Yoga workshops. With a passion for practical positivity and an absolute belief that all behaviour is communication, you are guaranteed to get support that is empowering as well as knowledgeable. Rachel is hoping the workshops and training offered will help get all ages connected to their emotions, their support networks and to society to help create a happier fairer world.

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