Encouraging a growth mindset in our children

A few years ago I read about a “growth mindset” for the first time. As a new father I was reading as much as I could about how to help my children develop. Fortunately, my wife brought a human development degree to our relationship - which has been a big help!

As I learned about a growth mindset - learn more about a growth mindset here - I decided I wanted to help my children develop this characteristic. What follows is a few principles to keep in mind, as well as some fun examples, to help you encourage a growth mindset in your children.

1. Embrace Failure

Growing up Sara Blakely - who would go on to be the founder of the billion-dollar hosiery business called Spanx - had a dad that embraced failure. Sara says, “My dad used to ask my brother and me at the dinner table what we had failed at that week.” If the kids couldn’t come up with some way they had failed, Sara’s Dad would encourage them to try harder the next week. Sara recalls one such conversation “I can remember coming home from school and saying, ‘Dad, I tried out for this and I was horrible!’ and he would high-five me and say, ‘Way to go!’ If I didn’t have something that I had failed at, he actually would be disappointed.” (See Business Insider http://www.businessinsider.com/the-blakely-family-dinner-table-question-2015-3)

Parenting in this way helps our children to not define themselves by the mistakes they make. It helps our children see failure for what it really is - a necessary step in the learning process. We can’t be good at anything of worth without failing a few times! What a different world view than our children often get in today’s school systems.

2. Dynamic Quizzing

In many schools today poor testing methods and the prevailing grading systems push the mentality that being right is all that matters. Kids learn a topic, get quizzed on it, miss a few questions, get a grade, and then the class is on to the next topic. Teachers typically can’t take the time to follow up with each child about why they missed the questions they did. Involved parents can review these things with their children, but that can also be difficult with the intense demands on our time as well as the lack of transparency into our children’s school work - that’s no excuse parents, these are our kids!

Contrast the learning techniques above with some of the new tools developed by companies like Kahn Academy. Kahn Academy leverages dynamic testing to help kids find where they are weak and then help them focus on that thing. If they miss a problem, Kahn Academy will help them re-learn the key principle and help reinforce that problem in future quizzes until they’ve nailed it. Kahn Academy treats failure as an important queue for teaching. By missing a problem on a quiz the student just helped Kahn Academy to identify how to help fill the gaps in their education.

When we view mistakes in the same way Kahn Academy does we will be better able to help our children learn. The other day my 5 year old - Benson - spilled his drink all over our table for the second time in a single meal. The first time I was fine, but the second time I started to feel frustrated. Benson looked up at me and said “It’s okay, because it was just a mistake.” My heart melted and he helped me get a better perspective on the situation. We were able to talk about where to place his cup and whether or not we should get him one that couldn’t spill. A far better conversation than the one that would likely have started with something like, “Benson, that’s two times in a row, what were you thinking!?!”

3. Model The Right Behavior

Most of us have heard of the famous marshmallow experiment. You know the one. The kids that successfully delayed gratification and earned the highly coveted second marshmallow went on to make more money, be more successful in family life, and a lot more great things. But most people have not heard about a follow on experiment. When the kids that were not able to delay gratification were placed with a mentor - an expert at delaying gratification - for a short period of time, their ability to delay gratification increased significantly.

Without this second finding, the marshmallow experiment would just be depressing! One would be tempted to think “Am I the kind the delays gratification? No? Then there’s no point in going to college or even getting married since I’m bound for failure anyways!” But the ability to delay gratification, like the ability embrace failure can be learned. How? Good role models.

Parents cannot be afraid of letting their children see them fail. If we really want to help them grow we’ll discuss our failures with them and help them see that our failures don’t keep us from trying. They’re an essential part of life for anyone that trying to accomplish anything significant.

Kids model the behavior of their parents. If we model inability to deal with failure then our kids will likely struggle with the same thing.

Pro Tip: Apologize to your kids when you do something wrong - no, always being right is not helpful! Some view an apology from a parent to a child as weakness. If you still feel that way after reading this article then you’ve missed the point.

Please feel free to comment on this article with great ideas you’ve seen to help encourage a growth mindset in children. I’m always looking for ways to improve my parenting game in this regard.