Success. Abundance. Prosperity. Intelligence. Talent. Skill.
These are all potential products of a growth mindset.
Why is it important to foster this mindset in children?
A growth mindset can encourage a passion for learning and an ease in facing new challenges. Children with a growth mindset outperform those with a fixed mindset and are more likely to bounce back from failures (Schroder et al., 2017).
Teachers concur on the importance of a growth mindset in children; however, many are unaware of how to nurture this mindset or implement the theory in their teaching (Boylan, Barblett, & Knaus, 2018).
Read on for ideas to foster a growth mindset in children that can be applied in a classroom or at home.
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Growth vs Fixed Mindset: Definition for Kids
Simply put, a growth mindset is believing that your brain can grow and you can learn many new things. You are not born smart; you become smart.
A fixed mindset is quite the opposite. It is believing that you cannot learn new things. You are born with your knowledge and skills and cannot get smarter.
It may help to explain that the brain is like a muscle. Just like when you lift weights, when you exercise your brain, it will get bigger and stronger.
It is also important to teach children that kids with a growth mindset have a “can do” attitude. They often see challenges as an opportunity to learn and grow. Phrases like, “I can’t do it,” “I’m just not good at this,” and “This is too hard” are not a part of their vernacular. Instead, children with a growth mindset say, “I may not be able to do it, yet,” “This is hard, but I will try,” and “I can learn how to do this!”
Working toward a growth mindset shares the same premise as Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT). Both involve moving negative thoughts into more positive thoughts and retraining the brain’s metacognitive thinking. Instead of viewing challenges as obstacles, we can view them as opportunities for growth.
Nurturing a Growth Mindset in Kids & Students
First and foremost, to nurture a growth mindset in others, it is important for educators or guardians to have a growth mindset themselves.
Andersen and Nielsen (2016) assert that parents’ fixed mindsets could prohibit children’s scholastic performance, particularly in reading.
The researchers delivered parent interventions, and the students who showed the most growth had parents who embraced a growth mindset. The parents who did not accept a growth mindset believed that their child’s reading abilities were fixed and that their participation in the intervention would have no effect on their child’s reading performance. Ultimately, these are the students who suffer.
A facilitator of a growth mindset must hold a strong conviction that all students can learn and be successful.
Jackie Gerstein (2014) offered an effective professional development opportunity. She provides many good materials for educators to help develop a growth mindset. Perusing the materials from her seminar, The Educator With a Growth Mindset: A Professional Development Workshop, can help educators become familiar with their own growth mindset.
It’s also critical to praise children for their effort rather than their ability or intelligence (Andersen & Nielsen, 2016; O’Rourke, Haimovitz, Ballweber, Dweck, & Popović, 2014). Parents who praise their child’s effort instead of their performance have a significantly positive effect on their children’s academic potential (Andersen & Nielsen, 2016; O’Rourke et al., 2014).
It is critical that adults focus on the process children take to obtain a skill, not the end result.
Establishing an incentive program for students who demonstrate growth and progression can help to foster a growth mindset. O’Rourke et al. (2014) found that by modifying a video game’s incentive structure, the game not only increased motivation, but also had the potential to improve students’ behavior positively in regard to mindset.
In their study, the researchers created a reward system within the video game that incentivized students’ persistence, use of strategy, and other behaviors consistent with a growth mindset. They coined the term ‘Brain Points.’
Providing children with personal examples of when a challenge was overcome or something was learned can also help encourage a growth mindset. Framing our language for children to reflect a growth mindset positively affects students’ implicit theories of self-belief (Navarro, 2020).
It can also be beneficial to display posters reminding students to practice a growth mindset (Einck, 2017). Here are some posters that might appeal to older students and some created for younger students. Both are available on Teachers Pay Teachers, along with many other posters and coloring pages at no cost.
Educators can infuse a growth mindset into their everyday vernacular with an honest dialogue, such as, “Oh, I found this cleaning really hard to do, but I just took one step at a time and got it done. I’m proud of the work I’ve done.” This dialogue can model what a growth mindset looks like. Additionally, this Growth Mindset Phrases for Children worksheet may help replace fixed mindset phrases with growth mindset phrases.
Remind students of a time when they couldn’t do something at first but learned how, or when they overcame a challenge. This could include walking, reading, tying their shoes, or riding a bike.
8 Best Growth Mindset Activities for Children
In addition to the suggestions above, these mindset activities may be implemented in the home or the classroom to help nurture a growth mindset.
1. The hard thing
Implement Duckworth’s “the hard thing” rule, where students choose a difficult task. The task could be tying their shoes, solving 10 addition problems in one minute, writing a three-page essay, or learning the multiplication tables.
Students should independently select their task and remain persistent in practicing their chosen task. Duckworth (2018) explains her household rule in this short video.
2. Grit pie exercise
In this exercise, the pie is the problem, and each slice is a possible cause. Have the child identify if the cause is permanent or temporary and whether they blame themselves or someone else.
Help the child view the problem as temporary and demonstrate how they can gain control by making some changes. Grit is critical, along with perseverance and self-discipline, as they are better predictors of success in college than the SAT or IQ tests (Bashant, 2014).
3. Individual conferences
Although conferences can be held for any subject, teacher–student conferences are an effective strategy for teaching writing, as they include the student as part of the collaboration (Bayraktar, 2013).
Teachers should meet with students individually to talk about areas of growth and to boost confidence levels. Teachers can discuss challenges the student has already overcome and the steps to achieve their goals. It’s also a great idea to discuss the “hard thing” they chose and what they are doing to master the task.
Vocabulary is important, particularly in reading, as it is the strongest predictor of later reading achievement (Rowe & Leech, 2019). By making these terms a normal part of students’ vernacular, educators can encourage a growth mindset and boost students’ vocabulary skills.
Have students interview people in their lives and community about a challenge they faced. Example interview questions could include:
- “What is a challenge you have faced?”
- “How did you overcome that challenge?”
- “What advice can you give to someone facing a challenge?”
The teacher can follow up with the interviewees to determine the student’s understanding of the two mindsets, as it shows how the student perceives their learning potential and allows the teacher to create a personalized approach to learning (Jennings & Cuevas, 2021).
6. Comparison chart
Differentiate a growth mindset from a fixed mindset by categorizing statements into a “T-chart.” T-charts are an effective and common way to represent data (Blanton & Kaput, 2004) and help students to visualize the differences between growth and fixed mindset phrases.
There is a plethora of books for children on the topic of the growth mindset. Reading a few of these books together will help the student or child become familiar with the strategies needed for a growth mindset.
Books are an excellent tool for promoting a classroom with a growth mindset (Einck, 2017).
- Growth Mindset Book Series by Esther Pia Cordova. Find the books on Amazon.
- I Can’t Do That, YET: Growth Mindset
- A World Without Failures
- Little Bears Can Do BIG Things
- Your Thoughts Matter
- Mistakes Are How I Learn by Kiara Wilson. Find the book on Amazon.
- Growth Mindset Kids Activities for Ages 4-12 by Mark Steven. Find the book on Amazon.
- I Can Do Hard Things: Mindful Affirmations for Kids by Gabi Garcia. Find the book on Amazon.
- Pelican and Pelican’t by Sarah Froeber. Find the book on Amazon.
Like books, movies are also an effective resource for nurturing a growth mindset (Einck, 2017). Watch films that include examples of people overcoming challenges and discuss the challenges the characters are facing. Identify the strategies they used to overcome those challenges.
- Remember the Titans
- The Blind Side
- Good Will Hunting
- Finding Nemo
7 Questions to Ask Children and Students
It is imperative to build students’ metacognitive skills.
Getting them to “think about their thinking” can help foster a growth mindset, as can discussing challenges and setbacks.
The following questions can be used to begin conversations about growth mindset strategies.
- What is your brain saying?
If it’s saying you cannot do something, say, “No thanks, brain. I can do this.” Self-talk is very important and can improve self-confidence and self-efficacy (Tod, Hardy, & Oliver, 2011).
- What is the hard part? How can you overcome that hard part?
Having children identify the difficult element of the problem can help them realize that the entire activity is not hard. Perhaps there is only a portion of it that is tricky.
- What are some challenges you have already overcome?
Discussing previous challenges and indicating that they have already overcome them can help empower the child.
- What are some of your favorite strategies you used to overcome challenges?
Bringing attention to all the strategies they have used in the past reminds children that they have the tools to succeed.
- What is a mistake you made that taught you something?
Showing students that mistakes help us to learn can make mistakes seem less scary.
- What challenge did you face today and what strategy did you use to overcome that challenge?
Asking this each day prepares children to anticipate facing challenges every day.
- “Let’s talk about what you’ve tried, and what you can try next” (Dweck, 2015, p. 20).
Dweck (2015) suggested this statement to help children become “unstuck.” Instead of an empty phrase, such as, “You’ll get it next time,” Dweck’s phrase helps children to work through the problem.
3 Must-Read Books on the Topic
There is an abundance of books available to understand a growth mindset. The books selected below can help adults encourage a growth mindset in children.
1. The Grit Workbook for Kids: CBT Skills to Help Kids Cultivate a Growth Mindset and Build Resilience – Elisa Nebolsine
This workbook is recommended by therapists and aims to help adults help children develop grit, an essential element of a growth mindset.
There are 28 engaging, high-quality activities to empower kids to succeed.
Find the book on Amazon.
2. Becoming a Growth Mindset School: The Power of Mindset to Transform Teaching, Leadership and Learning – Chris Hildrew
To encourage a school-wide shift to a growth mindset, this book would be the perfect guide. This book is designed for educational leaders and provides a blueprint for an evidence-based school transformation.
Helping staff develop a growth mindset, creating a growth mindset curriculum, and involving parents in the development of a growth mindset are all described in this valuable text.
Find the book on Amazon.
3. The Growth Mindset Playbook: A Teacher’s Guide to Promoting Student Success – Annie Brock and Heather Hundley
This resource is ideal for teacher lesson planning for encouraging a growth mindset.
Any classroom could benefit from the research-based training methods encompassed in this follow-up to the bestselling book The Growth Mindset Coach.
Find the book on Amazon.
Resources From PositivePsychology.com
We have a great selection of articles and worksheets that can help develop a growth mindset.
The article 5+ Ways to Develop a Growth Mindset Using Grit and Resilience has a section addressing the growth mindset for children and includes several book recommendations for adults looking to read more on the subject.
11 Mindset Activities and Tests Designed to Nurture Growth is a source of assessment tools and activities an educator can complete to affirm a thorough understanding of a growth mindset.
Learn more about the differences between a growth mindset and a fixed mindset in Growth Mindset vs. Fixed + Key Takeaways From Dweck’s Book. This article also includes links to posters that can be used on a classroom bulletin board.
Older students can complete the Self-Awareness Worksheet for Older Children to identify their strengths and needs. They are also able to identify who they can go to for help. Additionally, Learning From My Work is a useful tool for older students to reflect on their work.
The My Gifts – Traits and Talents activity can be used with a range of students and asks students to identify their unique qualities, traits, and talents. Students also create a box using the template provided to recall their unique qualities when they may need a reminder.
If you’re looking for more science-based ways to help others discover meaning, check out this collection of 17 validated meaning tools for practitioners. Use them to help others choose directions for their lives in alignment with what is truly important to them.
A Take-Home Message
A fixed mindset should be discouraged; however, don’t cross the line into toxic positivity by just saying, “You can do this.” Model a growth mindset. Explain a growth mindset. Really live it and show what a growth mindset looks like in real life.
Allow children and students a moment of “struggle time.” Don’t be a “lawnmower” parent or teacher, who mows down challenges for their child so they no longer have to face difficulties. This practice prevents the growth that comes from those challenges.
It is critical to keep in mind that this mindset is developed over time and is not something that happens instantaneously. Implement a variety of activities. Using the multitude of resources provided here can help nurture a growth mindset in children and instill a lifelong love of learning.
We hope you enjoyed reading this article. Don’t forget to download our three Meaning and Valued Living Exercises for free.
- Andersen, S. C., & Nielsen, H. S. (2016). Reading intervention with a growth mindset approach improves children’s skills. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 113(43), 12111–12113.
- Bashant, J. (2014). Developing grit in our students: Why grit is such a desirable trait, and practical strategies for teachers and schools. Journal for Leadership and Instruction, 13(2), 14–17.
- Bayraktar, A. (2013). Nature of interactions during teacher-student writing conferences: Revisiting the potential effects of self-efficacy beliefs. Eurasian Journal of Educational Research, 50, 63–85.
- Blanton, M. L., & Kaput, J. J. (2004). Elementary grades students’ capacity for functional thinking. International Group for the Psychology Of Mathematics Education. University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth, U.S.A.
- Boylan, F., Barblett, L., & Knaus, M. (2018). Early childhood teachers’ perspectives of growth mindset: Developing agency in children. Australasian Journal of Early Childhood, 43(3), 16–24.
- Brock, A., & Hundley, H. (2017). The growth mindset playbook: A teacher’s guide to promoting student success. Ulysses Press.
- Duckworth, A. (2018). The hard thing rule. Global Leadership Network. Retrieved October 20, 2021, from https://globalleadership.org/videos/leading-yourself/the-hard-thing-rule
- Dweck, C. (2015, September 22). Carol Dweck revisits the growth mindset. Education Week, 35(5), 20–24.
- Einck, C. (2017). Growth mindset affects elementary students (Master’s thesis, Northwestern College, Orange City, IA). Retrieved November 5, 2021, from http://nwcommons.nwciowa.edu/education_masters/39/
- Gerstein, J. (2014). The educator with a growth mindset: A staff workshop. User Generated Education. Retrieved October 25, 2021, from https://usergeneratededucation.wordpress.com/2014/08/29/the-educator-with-a-growth-mindset-a-staff-workshop/
- Hildrew, C. (2018). Becoming a growth mindset school: The power of mindset to transform teaching, leadership and learning. Routledge.
- Jennings, C., & Cuevas, J. A. (2021). Teacher impact on student growth mindset. Perspectives in Learning, 19(1), 4.
- Navarro, S. (2020). Modeling growth mindset: How parental involvement benefits student cognitive development. Digital Commons-Saint Mary’s California.
- Nebolsine, E. (2020). The grit workbook for kids: CBT skills to help kids cultivate a growth mindset and build resilience. Instant Help.
- O’Rourke, E., Haimovitz, K., Ballweber, C., Dweck, C., & Popović, Z. (2014). Brain points: A growth mindset incentive structure boosts persistence in an educational game. In CHI 2014: One of a CHInd – Conference Proceedings, 32nd Annual ACM Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (pp. 3339–3348). Association for Computing Machinery.
- Rowe, M. L., & Leech, K. A. (2019). A parent intervention with a growth mindset approach improves children’s early gesture and vocabulary development. Developmental Science, 22(4).
- Schroder, H. S., Fisher, M. E., Lin, Y., Lo, S. L., Danovitch, J. H., & Moser, J. S. (2017). Neural evidence for enhanced attention to mistakes among school-aged children with a growth mindset. Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience, 24, 42–50.
- Tod, D., Hardy, J., & Oliver, E. (2011). Effects of self-talk: A systematic review. Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology, 33(5), 666–687.