May 162013

Carol Dweck’s has done some ground-breaking research that has huge implications for how we parent our kids (and maybe how we talk to ourselves as well!)

Her work centers around mindsets—those who are focused on innate ability (in school, sports, relationships, etc) and those who are focused on learning and growing. In my last post I talked about the value of mistakes, and introduced Dweck’s idea of a fixed mindset versus a growth mindset.



Dweck discovered that even at the age of 4, some children are already locked in a fixed mindset. Once they become able to evaluate themselves, some become afraid of challenges because they have become afraid of not being smart. She offered 4 year olds a choice to redo an easy puzzle or to try a

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harder one. Kids with a fixed mindset stuck with an easy puzzle and reported, “Kids who are born smart don’t do mistakes.” Children with a growth mindset wondered, “Why would anyone want to keep doing the same puzzle over and over?” They chose one hard one after another.


In her brainwave lab at Columbia University, people with both types of mindsets answered hard questions and received feedback. “People with a fixed mindset were only interested when the feedback reflected on their ability. Their brain waves showed them paying close attention when they were told whether their answers were right or wrong. But when they were presented with information that could help them learn, there was no sign of interest. “


In one particular study, Dweck and her colleagues offered 2 different kinds of praise for kids who were about to begin working on difficult math problems. The group praised for intelligence and innate ability ultimately gave up when they encountered difficult problems: “If success means I’m smart; struggle means I’m not.” Even when they were given easier problems again their performance plummeted. And they lied later about their scores because they weren’t able to admit to struggling, even to themselves.

The other group was given praise regarding their “process”–effort, concentration, hard work, and strategies . When it came time to do the math problems, they persevered and chose harder and harder tasks where they would make mistakes but would also learn more. They had no “label” at risk

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and so they relished the puzzle and challenge of harder problems. They actually got smarter and became more and more successful.


How do we instill a growth mindset in our kids? Especially the ones more prone to a fixed mindset? Dweck says you can’t talk them into it. You have to live it yourself.

She says end the day by asking each child and each other:

  • What did you learn today?
  • What mistake did you make that taught you something?
  • What did you try hard at today?

“You go around the table with each question, excitedly discussing your own and one another’s effort, strategies, setvacks, and learning,” she says.

As kids tell their stories you say, “Wow, you really did get smarter today!”

When fixed mindset kids tell stories about being better than other people, you ask. “What did you learn?” If the child brags about how easy everything is you say, “It doesn’t sound like you are learning much… Can you find something harder to do so you can learn more?”

Dweck says don’t limit it to school or sports—help the children talk about how they are learning to make friends, or ways they are learning to understand or care for other people. Communicate that intelligence and physical prowess are not all you care about.

Do you think you have a fixed mindset or a growth mindset? What about your kids?



© 2012 Standing on Peace


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