Does your child get frustrated and give up (or throw something) when he or she isn’t able to do something new on the very first try? When Bryn was a toddler, I noticed that failure didn’t faze her at all. If she was trying to hop from square to square and landed in the wrong place, she’d go all the way back to the beginning and start over, again and again, until she was satisfied.
But lately, as she’s approaching four years old, I’ve noticed that she has very little tolerance for imperfection, even with new skills. If she’s drawing, it has to “look right.” When she first started tracing, it infuriated her! This perfectionism has snuck in, turning fun new activities into crank-fests. Later that day or the next, I’ll notice that she went back some time after she’d stomped away, and she practiced privately until she figured it out. So what is going on?
I came across a concept that is probably familiar to many of you that have classroom experience: the growth mindset vs. the fixed mindset. These terms were coined by Stanford University professor Carol Dweck, author of the best-selling book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success (affiliate link).
Basically, fixed vs. growth mindset describes a person’s attitude and underlying beliefs about learning and intelligence. A person with a growth mindset believes that they can become smarter and that their efforts will make them smarter through a process called brain plasticity. So this applies not just to physical skills, but mental tasks as well.
Recent advances in neuroscience have shown us that the brain is far more malleable than we ever knew. Research on brain plasticity has shown how connectivity between neurons can change with experience. With practice, neural networks grow new connections, strengthen existing ones, and build insulation that speeds transmission of impulses. These neuroscientific discoveries have shown us that we can increase our neural growth by the actions we take, such as using good strategies, asking questions, practicing, and following good nutrition and sleep habits. — MindsetWorks, co-founded by Carol Dweck
If you think about it, this concept is incredibly important among parents, children and teachers. As adults, we have a tremendous responsibility to foster a growth mindset and demonstrate the inner talk and behaviors that encourage patience and practice with new skills. So often in the public school system we see examples of the soft tyranny of low expectations, or on the flip side, the praise of “natural intelligence.” How many teachers feel that they have “radar” that predicts on day one who’s going to be a challenge in the classroom, and who is going to float through the days with a smile and a hand waving in the air?
Let’s say little Suzy is one of the kids instantly recognized as “so smart and clever.” What happens when she’s faced with something new and truly challenging for the first time and feels that failure would be too humiliating? Maybe she avoids it, chooses an easier path where she’s likely to keep her position at the top of the heap. And with that sigh of relief that she didn’t embarrass herself by showing any hint of imperfection, her path in life narrows.
It’s easy to find a lot of poster designs and wall décor in public school classrooms that are purported to teach the growth mindset. But in the homeschool environment, I really think it’s more important to model and verbalize the concept in your daily life vs. trying to sit down and teach it. I get it. Not all kids in public schools are going to have home environments where the importance of trying, practice and patience is emphasized. Classroom charts make sense to help students focus on the concept and learn this type of positive self-talk, maybe for the first time.
Luckily, as homeschooling parents, we have a great opportunity to foster a growth mindset each and every day with our children. Modeling the behaviors, verbalizing the messages, and reading or watching stories that praise perseverance vs. “natural gifts.” That’s how we can really help our children internalize this concept.
I have found some amazing resources that you can use to reinforce these messages and practice them at home.
First, you absolutely must watch this short animated film “Soar,” by Alyce Tzue. Bryn and I watched it together three times in a row. It is a beautiful story.
Second, you might want to check out the Big Life Journal, by Alexandra and Scott Eidens. They sell a gorgeous full-color growth mindset journal just for kids as well as a PDF version and a poster. But guess what? If you sign up for their emails, they’ll send you FREE printables each week plus “A Parent’s Guide to a Growth Mindset”!
And books, books and more books:
And finally, plenty of literature units and activities based on these awesome books:
Do you have a child that struggles with perfectionism, frustration or self-doubt? How do you model the growth mindset in your home?
This post contains affiliate links as well as links to my Usborne Books & More store and a number of free resources via Pinterest. Please see my FTC Blogger Disclosures for more details.