“In a growth mindset, people believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work—brains and talent are just the starting point. This view creates a love of learning and a resilience that is essential for great accomplishment.” Carol Dweck.
I delivered a talk recently to a group of parents and teenagers. During the talk I had used the phrase, “sense of self”. When I had finished speaking a teenage girl quietly whispered a question, “what do you mean by sense of self”.
What a brilliant question to ask.
As a philosophy graduate I have often considered “self” to be a somewhat slippery concept. The way I chose to answer was, to describe self as “a process which we get to participate in creating”. Self is fluid and open to change and growth.*
I noticed the girl’s eyes light up, she excitedly came to find me after the talk. Until that moment she thought she was stuck with who she was – average grades, not very good at art – the idea that she could influence and change these things was a revelation to her:
She was stepping into a growth mindset.
How can we support our children to adopt the idea that they get to influence who and how they want to be?
1. Praise effort rather than intelligence.
Research by Carol Dweck shows how the sorts of feedback we get, especially early in life, or early in an endeavor, shape our self concept. A study by Dweck demonstrated that praise for intelligence can undermine a child’s motivation and performance, praise for effort increases both motivation and performance.
Try using phrases such as:
“You tried really hard to solve that problem”
“It was great the way that you persisted even though it was hard”
“I noticed the fact that even though you got the wrong answer at first, you thought about it and tried again”
This encourages children to try things which might be hard for them and have the courage to keep going even though they don’t see results straight away. A skill we need throughout life.
2. Role modeling.
The college which I am currently researching has an interesting approach to recruitment. They choose staff who have overcome challenges which the young people can relate to and gone on to achieve success.
When the person who has overcome the challenge is in some way like them it helps young people to expand their sense of what is possible.
This can be done using stories or films as well as through sharing your own stories of overcoming difficulties or those of friends, family members and teachers.
Markus and Nurius’ theory of possible selves is a good resource if you would like to understand more about the research on this.
3. Encourage self reflection.
Give children time and space to think about a difficult situation after it has happened and come up with ideas around how they might handle things differently next time. This helps to increase their cognitive flexibility. It also allows them to gather evidence that it is possible to change the way that they react to situations.
In order to live a happy life it is important for us to have an embodied sense that we can continue to grow, evolve and overcome the problems which life inevitably throws our way. I hope these ideas are helpful. If you would like to talk further or need support with anything related to parenting reach out to email@example.com.
*It could be helpful to make a distinction between personality and character. Personality refers to traits we possess which are relatively fixed. Character is what we are able to cultivate and develop. Cognitive scientist John Vervaeke describes how Aristotle made this distinction.